by Timothy Lutts
We didn’t set out to break any personal museum-going records on our recent 18-day European vacation. It just happened. Here’s the summary, in chronological order.
1. National Gallery – Popular and absolutely wonderful, with the best paintings from English Masters like Constable and Turner, lots of French Impressionists, and exquisite Italian Renaissance pieces.
2. British Museum — Grandma’s attic on steroids, holding beautiful stuff from all over the world. Julie went alone, because I was attending a conference, and this is (some of) the stuff she loves.
3. Sir John Soane’s Museum — Soane was an architect by trade and a collector of beautiful things, and his linked houses are crammed with treasures. Again, Julie went alone and loved it.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
4. The Bank Museum — Located in the former tellers’ area of Spuerkees Bank, this little museum features old money, an unused vault, and the tools of the trade. It was interesting to note Belgium’s vacillation over the years between the French and Dutch languages.
5. Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean — Terrible. Poorly executed contemporary art. Weed-infested parking lot. Something is wrong in this young museum, most likely a lack of support (money).
6. National Museum of History and Art — We browsed the gift shop but didn’t enter because so much was under renovation.
7. Hergé Museum — Many Americans don’t know Tintin, the brave Belgian boy-reporter and star of comic books created between 1929 and 1976. But as a boy growing up in France in the 1960s, I sure did. Great museum. Louvain-la-Neuve is also the home of the Université Catholique de Louvain, where my second cousin Stanley Lutts teaches plant biology. http://www.museeherge.com/en
8. Bonnefantenmuseum – This fine arts museum is small, and mixes old masters (generally second tier) with contemporary art, including a domed room decorated by Sol LeWitt that was my favorite.
(Note: At Bonnefanten, thanks to a friendly employee, we bought Museum Cards that allowed us to see all the Dutch museums on this trip and, importantly, to bypass some lines at the crowd favorites in Amsterdam.)
9. Magritte Museum — Part of a trio (including the next two museums), the Magritte Museum is rather young, and lacks some of the artist’s most popular images, but it did a very nice job providing a picture of his whole (generally pleasant) life.
10. Old Masters Museum — Containing more Flemish masters than most people need to see, it occupies a lovely old well-lit space. Personally, I loved the precision and realism of these artists.
11. Fin-de-Siècle Museum — Not particularly memorable. Contains art from 1865-1914, and not much of it.
12. Musical Instrument Museum — An unexpected treasure in a beautiful art deco building built of girded steel and glass in 1889, the MIM owns more than 8,000 musical instruments, many of which you have never heard of, never mind heard. Wearing a set of infrared headphones, you hear music played by the instrument you’re looking at, automatically.
13. Belgian Center of Comic Strip Art — This museum (in a beautiful art nouveau building that was once a fabric emporium) attempts to elevate the dozens of Belgian comic strip artists who’ve followed him to the level of Hergé. Uneven, but a great place to buy comic books.
14. Ghent Design Museum — A hidden gem, featuring both original furnished rooms from 1755 and a bright modern wing with 20th century and contemporary industrial and residential design.
15. Groening Museum — Featuring more than six centuries of Flemish and Belgian art in just ten main rooms, this museum is compact but very satisfying.
16. Rijksmuseum — An absolute monster and absolutely splendid, featuring the best art that money could buy in the centuries the Dutch ruled the seas and after. Try to go when the crowds aren’t there.
17. Van Gogh Museum — Another crowd favorite, the layout is simple and effective. Again, try to avoid the crowds if you can. And remember that Van Gogh died when he was 37.
18. Van Loon Museum — William Van Loon founded the Dutch East India company in 1602 and made a pile of money, and this house, which includes a garden and coach house, displays some of the furniture and art his descendants acquired.
19. Foam Museum — The photography museum of Amsterdam, it’s modest but good.
20. Geelvinck-Hinlopen House Museum — Another beautiful old house (in the same neighborhood as the museums two above), this one is notable for its collection of antique pianos, which are played at concerts in the house.
21. Hermitage Amsterdam — Opened in 2009, this rather austere building (used for 324 years as a home for the elderly), works in partnership with the Hermitage St. Petersburg. When we were there, the highlight was an exhibit titled Gauguin, Bonnard, Denis. My favorite was an entire room decorated by Maurice Denis, portraying the story of Psyche and Cupid.
22. Stedelijk Museum — Amsterdam’s main museum of modern and contemporary art is very impressive, especially the vast new underground space.
23. Nieuwe Kerk — Built in the 15th century, this “new church” is used by the Dutch royal family for investitures and weddings, but it is no longer used as a church. We saw a very good exhibit titled Ming: Emperors, Artists and Merchants in Ancient China.