My Ten Favorite Art Museums in Europe
For me the most important European city for visiting art museums has been Berlin. I say that not because I this thriving German outranks places like Paris, Rome, London and Madrid, but because I have not been to these places and consequently I cannot make a direct comparison to these major metropolitan areas. As a result I have included at the end of the article a list of ten European museums that I have not visited, but would someday like to walk through their hallowed walls and gaze at the artwork.
Today, people say that since the fall of the wall and after the reunification of East and West Berlin, this city is on its way to regaining its former prominence in world affairs. Maybe this is true, but readers should be aware that in the beginning of the 20th century Berlin was a very important place, perhaps rivaling Paris and New York with its economic fortune and clout. And before the Nazis gained control of the town in 1933, the city had seen the rise of several major art movements, including two branches of German Expressionism, (Die Brucke and Blue Rider), German Dada and the New Objectivity. This rich history makes the German capitol one of the more important places to view modern and contemporary art.
The Bauhaus Today
Two Modern Berlin Museums
Both the Brucke (the bridge) and the Bauhaus Archives make for fun and fascinating stops when visiting this fun-loving, German city. Both museums exist as small cubicle structures, celebrating two different eras of the city's art history. Die Brucke museum occupies a bland building in West Berlin, where visitors can see changing exhibitions that relate to such important visual artists as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Located in a small area near the Grunwald, this small museum gives visitors a chance to learn about this early art movement that actually began in nearby Dresden.
Also of note is the Bauhaus Archives, which features innovative architectural design on the outside, while displaying art and artifacts inside the building that relate to the activities of students from the famous school. Visitors should note that this school began in Dresden and only existed in Berlin for one year before the central government closed the place down. The archive was founded in 1960 and the museum buildings incorporate classic Bauhaus design, as practiced by Walter Gropius and other members.
Gemaldegalerie In Berlin
The Old Masters
The Gemaldegalerie is for art lovers who love the Old Masters (Alte Meisters in German). This large modern structure contains quite a treasure chest of Gothic to Baroque paintings and sculpture from all across Europe. The collection is one of Europe's best and can usually be viewed here without a line or major expense. Important paintings by Raphael, Titian, Caraveggio, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt and Vermeer can be found here. Please note that there is another large collection of Old Masters paintings housed in an old building in Dresden that is also worth seeing.
The Lenbach House in Munich is a must stop for anyone who enjoys the paintings of the Blue Rider group. Originally built in a Florentine style by a 19th century painter, named Franz von Lenbach, this place became a city museum around 1925. The collection grew by leaps and bounds, when a cache of classic German Expressionist art was found inside a house owned by Blue Rider painter, Gabrielle Munter, in nearby Murnau during the 60s. Though closed through May 2013 for renovations, the Blue Rider collection takes up fives rooms and is a must see for anyone who enjoys the work of Wassily Kandinsky or any other of this eclectic early 20th century art movement.
Paul Klee Art Center
Klee In Berne
The works of another important Blue Rider painter, Paul Klee, can be viewed in Berne, Switzerland, the place where the Swiss musician and painter was born and raised. Klee is unusual among modern artists in that most of his artwork was unsold at his time of death in 1945. As a result the artifacts were passed on to his heirs and only in the last ten years have the large collection of paintings, drawings and prints been available to the general public. To facilitate the understanding of Klee's work, the Swiss have built a large complex, which emerges from underground like a gigantic insect. If you like Paul Klee, this is the place to be.
Another museum, featuring innovative underground design and a first-rate modern collection is the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, which can be found a few kilometers north of Copenhagen in the Danish town of Humlebaek. There once was a house here, that was built in the early 1800s and called the Louisiana House. However, that place has been torn down to make way for the new museum that meanders underneath the ground in a series of underground chambers that sometimes break the surface of the earth. Also present on the grounds is a large outdoor sculpture garden. Denmark's claim to fame is the Cobra group, which began here during the German occupation, but spread across borders once the war ended. As a result you will see many examples of these artists mixed in with more contemporary work from Scandinavia and beyond.
In Nice, visitors will find several interesting museums, including the Nice Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, the Matisse Museum and the Museum Marc Chagall. My favorite is the Musee Matisse, which sits on a natural hilltop, overlooking the Mediterranean city. Keep in mind that this part of southern France attracted artists like Matisse, Picasso and Chagall after they had made a name for themselves in places like Paris or London. Still, the old Renaissance building is worth a look; for here visitors can walk through numerous chambers graced with the sculpture and paintings of the noted Frenchman, Henri Matisse.
Leopold Museum In Venice
Almost in Eastern Europe at the edge of Austria sits the thriving city of Austria. Known more for its classical musicians and lavish royal family, the Habsburgs, this city still has a rich artistic tradition that can be viewed at several locales. The Leopold Museum can be found right in the museum quarter and is based on the collection of Rudolf Leopold, a far-sighted ophthalmologist, who did much of his purchasing in the wake of WWII, when Austria lay behind the Iron Curtain. Today, his efforts are on display in a large white building that sits adjacent to the downtown royal property. Of special note are the paintings of Egon Schiele, a prolific Austrian painter, who unfortunately died very young.
Prague is a fascinating place. The biggest draw is the architecture, but the city has a rich tradition of innovative photographers and offbeat modernists. For a chance to walk through a fascinating centuries old building and view several floors of contemporary painting, you might want to check out the Golden Ring House, which houses the City Gallery Prague. There is even a library on the second floor, dedicated to the modern art of the Czech Republic.
Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna
Also in Vienna, Austria is the Hundertwasser Museum, which is conveniently located in a house designed by the most eccentric artist. Here you can walk through the twisting uneven floors, that lead from one gallery to another. On the first floor is an interesting courtyard and cafe, while at the top of the building is a gallery, dedicated to other artists working in a several vein to the colorful Hundertwasser.
Museums I've Missed
Since my travels to Europe excluded many of the large cities I will quickly list some museums I would like to visit but have not so far done so. By far the biggest spots are Spain and the Netherlands. In the Netherlands first on my list would be the Van Gogh museum and the Cobra Art Museum both in Amsterdam. In Spain, I am intrigued by the Dali Museum in Figueres, the Guggenheim in Bilboa and of course El Prado in Madrid. In Paris I would first go to Musee d'Orsay and the Musee d'Orangerie for the Impressionist and Post Impressionist works. I'm sure that if you get right down to it, there are many more on this list, but this will have to do for now.