I’m a serial lover of lists, especially those about art and art museums around the world. A few years back I read a ‘Worlds 50 Best Art Gallery’s’ feature in The Times and thought that I needed to do more to get around them. I kept the paper and I’ve annotated each entry with the date I visited so far managing 29/50 in almost four years. You can read the feature (even if you aren’t a subscriber) on the following three links.
There are many other lists out there: Trip Advisor even has its own crowd sourced version, the Independent has a particularly good list of the UK and the Telegraph has a decent one on a largely European city basis. You can even do the online equivalent of rating yourself using this link. I make the top 1%but still only half way at 51/100. But most reviews don’t always do justice to the strength of a collection. There are also trends which I feel force more modern collections to the fore. To get a truly objective viewpoint you also have to look at visitor numbers and for that I’ve compiled a list at the bottom of the article.
Perhaps one reason why I like these lists is the ability to disagree and conjure up one’s own. There is much to admire about The Times list. For me the Uffizi will always have a special place in my heart. Florence is such a magical place and having got engaged to my wife in the city it’s got something that can’t easily be replicated elsewhere.
But having recently visited the National Gallery of Art in Washington I feel it’s a little hard done by at only 34 and the visitor numbers bare me out on that. Understandable perhaps that the UK should feature strongly in a UK publication but it really isn’t true to say that the Dulwich Collection (25) is a full 9 places better!
So as much as I think the Uffizi is special, the National Gallery in Washington I think ought to be top. It certainly is on my personal list and there are a couple of reasons for that.
Firstly there is the strength of the collection. I like to do research before visiting the major museums as I can’t bear to miss things and think it might be years before I’m back. For me the number of entries a place gets is normally a decent barometer of how I’ll like it. To give you a brief snapshot of lists I’ve worked on in 2016 The Met has 54, the Uffizi 71, Vatican 52 and the Gemaldegalerie in Berlin 68.
It’s hard to sum up the strength of a collection but juts take a look at the two photos below. You’ll see in one room 5 Raphael canvases as well as a couple by his teacher Perugino. There is a similar strength elsewhere in the collection, works by Holbein, Rembrandt, Bellini, Botticelli – and I’ve picked out a few of my favourites at the end of this post.
What I think is different about the National Gallery’s collection, what raises it up against the others, is the fact that it’s got the full range. I wrote about this before in a post on the Kunsthistorices Museum in Vienna in respect of Da Vinci. The room in which Ginevra de’ Benci sits is every bit as much a horror as going to see the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. People push and shove and get their phones out whilst ignoring the other great works in the room. Having a Da Vinci doesn’t make you one of the world’s great museums, as the Scottish National Gallery demonstrates. But what separates those in the top division can often be the presence of a canvass by the most famous of the Renaissance artists.
There are also superb sculptures with works by Bernini and Canova. But, as much as I recognise that my tastes are weighted to the Renaissance and portraiture, you have to see the whole cannon. So what’s genuinely great is that in the same building in DC you can see a Van Gough self-portrait and a few rooms away see a Rembrandt self-portrait. The earlier artist and his work has so clearly influenced the later. You shouldn’t need to go to a whole new intuition to be able to see them. You don’t need an arbitrary cut of point as is the case with the Louvre. This is I think what lifts the NGA Washington to the very top. Its Northern European collection is as strong as its Renaissance collection – few places have 3 (possibly 4 – the Girl with a Flute is disputed) Vermeer’s. If I have just one complaint it’s the lack of a Caravaggio.
But it’s not just the collection, it’s the building itself which is wonderful. The original neoclassical West Building designed by John Russell Pope, which is linked underground to the modern East Building, designed by I. M. Pei (1978) didn’t open until 1941. It’s the last great neo-classical building in the world. What I found fabulous was the superb use of indoor courtyards like the one pictured below which sits directly under the magnificent dome.
These courtyards and the quite comfortable space they provide are delightful. You won’t find them in our own National Gallery or in the Louvre. But when you are doing a big visit (it took me 4 hours) then you really appreciate them.
I’m sure others will have their own favourite but you could do a lot worse than to give this a chance.
Worlds most visited Museums
|Name||City||Country||Visitors annually||Year reported|
|British Museum||London||United Kingdom||6,695,213||2014|
|Metropolitan Museum of Art||New York City||United States||6,226,727||2013|
|National Gallery||London||United Kingdom||6,031,574||2013|
|Vatican Museums||Vatican City (Rome)||Vatican City||6,002,251||2015|
|Tate Modern||London||United Kingdom||4,884,939||2013|
|National Palace Museum||Taipei||Taiwan||4,500,278||2013|
|National Gallery of Art||Washington, D.C.||United States||4,093,070||2013|
|Musée National d’Art Moderne||Paris||France||3,745,000||2013|
|State Hermitage Museum||St. Petersburg||Russia||3,668,031||2015|
|Victoria and Albert Museum||London||United Kingdom||3,290,500||2013|
|Museum of Modern Art||New York City||United States||3,066,337||2013|
|National Museum of Korea||Seoul||South Korea||3,052,823||2013|
|National Folk Museum of Korea||Seoul||South Korea||2,705,814||2013|
|Somerset House||London||United Kingdom||2,398,066||2013|
|Museo del Prado||Madrid||Spain||2,306,966||2013|
|National Gallery of Victoria||Melbourne||Australia||2,273,907||2015|
|The National Art Center||Tokyo||Japan||2,039,947||2013|
|Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil||Rio de Janeiro||Brazil||2,034,397||2013|
|National Portrait Gallery||London||United Kingdom||2,014,636||2013|
|Galleria degli Uffizi||Florence||Italy||1,870,708||2013|
|National Museum of Scotland||Edinburgh||United Kingdom||1,768,090||2013|
|J. Paul Getty Museum[ii]||Los Angeles||United States||1,728,815||2013|
|FAMSF[iii]||San Francisco||United States||1,690,078||2013|
|Van Gogh Museum||Amsterdam||Netherlands||1,608,849||2014|
|Art Institute of Chicago||Chicago||United States||1,539,716||2013|
|Saatchi Gallery||London||United Kingdom||1,505,608||2013|
|Astan Quds Razavi Central Museum||Iran||Iran||1,496,971||2013 |
|Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil||Brasilia||Brazil||1,468,818||2013|
|National Galleries of Scotland[iv]||Edinburgh||United Kingdom||1,460,324||2013|
|Tokyo National Museum||Tokyo||Japan||1,403,909||2013|
|Tate Britain||London||United Kingdom||1,378,272||2013|
|Dalí Theatre and Museum||Figueres||Spain||1,333,430||2013|
|Musée du quai Branly||Paris||France||1,307,326||2013|
|Canadian Museum of History||Gatineau||Canada||1,300,000||2015|
|Gyeongju National Museum||Gyeongju||South Korea||1,276,165||2013|
|Australian Centre for the Moving Image||Melbourne||Australia||1,260,577||2013|
|Queensland Art Gallery/GoMA[v]||Brisbane||Australia||1,224,964||2013|
|Mori Art Museum||Tokyo||Japan||1,223,198||2013|
|LACMA||Los Angeles||United States||1,202,654||2013|
|SAAM/Renwick Gallery||Washington, D.C.||United States||1,200,000||2013|
|Guggenheim Museum||New York City||United States||1,199,123||2013|
|Institut Valencià d’Art Modern||Valencia||Spain||1,163,419||2013|
|Art Gallery of New South Wales||Sydney||Australia||1,162,792||2013|
|National Museum of Western Art||Tokyo||Japan||1,155,975||2013|
|Museum of Fine Arts||Boston||United States||1,134,289||2013|
|Museo Soumaya||Mexico City||Mexico||1,095,000||2013|
|National Portrait Gallery||Washington, D.C.||United States||1,083,815||2013|
|National Art Museum of China||Beijing||China||1,050,000||2013|
|Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum||Glasgow||United Kingdom||1,044,067||2013|
|Royal Academy of Arts||London||United Kingdom||1,018,378||2013|
|Montreal Museum of Fine Arts||Montreal||Canada||1,015,022||2013|
|Museum of Liverpool||Liverpool||United Kingdom||1,015,022||2013|
|Royal Ontario Museum||Toronto||Canada||956,498||2013|
|Serpentine Galleries||London||United Kingdom||945,161||2013|
|Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil||São Paulo||Brazil||931,639||2013 |
|Guggenheim Museum||Bilbao||Spain||931,015||2013 |
|Museo di Capodimonte||Naples||Italy||923,706||2013|
|Musée de l’Orangerie||Paris||France||900,000||2013|
|Art Gallery of Ontario||Toronto||Canada||852,904||2013|
|Museum of Fine Arts||Houston||United States||850,395||2013|
|Merseyside Maritime Museum||Liverpool||United Kingdom||845,709||2013|
|ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum||Aarhus||Denmark||816,468||2015|
|Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam||Amsterdam||Netherlands||811,000||2014|
|Royal Palace of Milan||Milan||Italy||806,677||2013|
|National Gallery of Australia||Canberra||Australia||770,243||2013|
|Minneapolis Institute of Art||Minneapolis||United States||752,444||2015|
|Ashmolean Museum||Oxford||United Kingdom||747,874||2013|
|Palais de Tokyo||Paris||France||723,259||2013|
|World Museum Liverpool||Liverpool||United Kingdom||716,579||2013|
|Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris||Paris||France||700,088||2013|
|Ullens Center for Contemporary Art||Beijing||China||700,000||2013|
|Seattle Art Museum[vi]||Seattle||United States||689,582||2013|
|Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium||Brussels||Belgium||662,389||2013 |
|Huntington Library||San Marino (Los Angeles County )||United States||660,640||2013 |