There’s something magical and humbling about standing before a great work of art. Knowing that an artist you admire touched that very canvas is enough to give you chills.
Of course, art lovers aren’t immune to disappointment in museums. If you’ve made the pilgrimage to the Louvre only to discover that the Mona Lisa is tiny, hidden behind thick glass, and surrounded by a crowd of selfie-taking charlatans, then you know what I’m talking about. In fact, I’m going to suggest that you skip the Louvre and check out a different art museum in Paris instead!
From New York to Saint Petersburg, these are the best art museums in Europe and America showcasing Western art.
State Hermitage, Russia
At over 700,000 square feet, this sprawling museum is one of the largest in the world. The central collection is housed in what was once the Winter Palace, where the Romanovs lived before the revolution. You could easily get lost among the three million items on display. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, but a fascinating one.
It would be impossible to list all the highlights of the collection; after all, they’ve been adding to it since 1764. You’ll find everything from Picasso paintings to Faberge eggs at the Hermitage. Wear comfortable shoes and plan to spend at least a full day here.
The Rijksmuseum, Netherlands
In this Amsterdam museum, you’ll find “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt–a towering canvas that will make you feel tiny. Plan to wait if you want to study every detail of the painting, as it is often thronged with tourists. The Rijksmuseum also has an incredible collection of Vermeers and Van Goghs.
In addition to some incredible paintings, the Rijksmuseum is filled with furniture, crafts, and everyday objects that informed the world of these great artists. It’s unlike any other museum in the world, merging history and art into one seamless whole.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
I was lucky to spend many weekend afternoons at the Met during college. New York offers an art museum for every palate, but for me, you can’t beat the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Housing not only paintings and sculptures but also artifacts from across the globe, this museum is the perfect place to spend a day when you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
I always liked the Tiffany fountain, but my favorite piece in the collection is “Joan of Arc” by Jules Bastien-Lepage. The massive oil painting shows the young Frenchwoman having a vision, reaching toward something only she can see.
The Victoria and Albert Museum
There are many great museums in London, but the V&A stands apart for its focus on both art and design. While the British Museum boasts the Rosetta Stone and the Tate Britain houses the finest collection of Pre-Raphealite art, the Victoria and Albert Museum is a world unto itself.
One of my favorite memories of the museum was wandering the galleries and stumbling upon the plaster cast of Trajan’s Column from above, a towering monument that fills up an entire hall. If you’re a fashionista or fond of sparkly things, then you’ll spend hours in the costume gallery. There’s also a really lovely cafeteria in the lower level for when you need a restorative cuppa.
If you are touring Italy, please don’t skip the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. While Italy boasts several prominent museums, this one is a must-see if you are a fan of Renaissance artwork.
The gallery’s core collection was a gift from Anna Maria Luisa, the last heiress of the infamous Medici family, following her death in 1743. One of the best-known paintings in the world is housed at the Uffizi: Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” The collection also includes works by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphel, Michaelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The Ufizzi holds “Judith Slaying Holofernes,” the most prominent work by Artemisia Gentileschi. Although somewhat overlooked during her lifetime, she’s now respected as one of the greatest painters of the Baroque era.
I promised that we’d skip the Louvre, didn’t I? Look, the Louvre is the world’s greatest art museum. It’s also one of the most crowded. It can take days to explore it properly, too. That’s why I prefer the Musee d’Orsay when visiting Paris.
This museum is a dream for anyone who admires impressionist painters. You’ll find works by Monet and Manet, Degas and Gauguin, Cezanne and Seurat, Renoir and Rodin. Truly, it’s the greatest hits of French art. Unlike many museums, the galleries are filled with light and a sense of airy, open space thanks to the building’s previous life as a train station.
Museo Nacional Del Prado
Located in Madrid, Spain’s crown jewel of museums is the Prado. The collection began with artwork commissioned by Spain’s royal family with an emphasis on Spanish artists, but it has grown to include some of the most famous pieces from across Europe.
You’ll find great works by El Greco, Goya, and Diego Velázquez, the latter of which also helped curate the collection. Velázquez’s masterwork “Las Meninas” is on display at the Prado.
One of the most famous–and disturbing–paintings in the world also calls this museum home. Although he was Dutch, Heironymous Bosch’s triptych “The Garden of Earthly Delights” made its way to Madrid.