Here’s our list of eight of the world’s must-see art galleries. Marvel at masterpieces by Ruben and Monet at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or embrace the beauty of Cézanne’s Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) at the National Gallery in London.
Galleria Degli Uffizi, Florence
Located in Florence, Italy, the Galleria is arguably a close second to the much-adored Leaning Tower of Pisa, another of Italy’s most visited tourist landmarks. This magnificent U-shaped building was originally supposed to be offices (thus the term Uffizi) for the Florentine judiciary and guilds. However, it is now one of the most significant, most visited art galleries in the world.
Officially opened to the public in 1765, it became a formal museum exactly a century later. Once owned by the art-adoring Medici family, most paintings housed here date back to the Italian Renaissance.
Notable paintings exhibited in the huge labyrinthine rooms include creations by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Fra Lippo Lippi, Raphael, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Bellini, Diego Velázquez, Caravaggio and Peter Paul Rubens.
National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
Considered one of the world’s most popular destinations for art fans, the National Gallery is located in Westminster’s Trafalgar Square, Central London. Built to resemble The Vatican, the main building formally opened to the public in 1838. About a decade later, the British government acquired 38 paintings from the estate collection of John Julius Angerstein (1735–1823). In 1824, the government displayed them in the late merchant’s house.
Designed by William Wilkins, a Greek Revival architect, the gallery was expanded five times between 1860 and 1991 to accommodate more and more paintings. Until 1897, the National Gallery also exhibited modern British art. However, Tate Gallery now houses later collections.
Approximately 2,000 paintings regale the collection, many of which are famous Venetian and Florentine masterpieces. In fact, it is the most sweeping set of magical Italian Renaissance brush strokes found outside Italy. Notable works exhibited here include those of da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh, Michelangelo, Oscar-Claude Monet, Johannes Vermeer, Raphael and Paul Cézanne.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Inaugurated for public exhibition in 1859, the Scottish National Gallery (SNG) lies on The Mound (an artificial, grassy hill that joins the old and new towns of Edinburgh). The government-owned National Galleries of Scotland manages the collection. The organization also controls the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. The awe-inspiring grandeur of the interiors seemingly demands the visitors’ undivided attention while simultaneously instilling a feeling of tranquillity.
Prominent paintings at the Gallery include Sandro Botticelli, Monet, Cézanne, Rembrandt, van Gogh, da Vinci, Gauguin, Lorenzo Lotto, Vermeer, John Constable and William Blake.
The National Gallery, Prague
One of the largest art galleries in Central Europe and managing the largest collection of art in the Czech Republic, this state-owned gallery does not exist as a single structure but is made up of many national monuments, such as the Veletržní Palác (Trade Fair Palace, which is the largest and holds the modern art collection), the Convent of St Agnes of Bohemia (which holds the art of the Middle Ages), Šternberk Palace and Schwarzenberg Palace.
Dating back to 1796, the Society of Patriotic Friends of the Arts started the Academy of Fine Arts along with the Picture Gallery to promote and encourage art and creativity. In 1918, as the newly formed Czechoslovakia came into being, the main collection resided in the Picture Gallery. The solemn, yet opulent, hallways with their impressive masterpieces tell an altogether different story to the observant art critic.
Marvel at Czech and Slovak paintings alongside art by van Gogh, Picasso, Auguste Renoir, Cézanne, Rubens, Rembrandt and Monet.
Resembling a ‘picture postcard’ castle from the outside while exuding a sense of space and luxury from the inside, the Rijksmuseum (or “State Museum” in the Dutch language) is one of Holland’s greatest art galleries, but also one of the world’s best in terms of its classic collection that includes masterstrokes by geniuses such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bellini, van Dyck, Rubens and Monet.
The collection was originally a royal gallery by the King of Holland Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon I’s brother). Its primary collection comprised paintings from Nationale Kunst-Galerij. Once the Bonapartes fell out of power, the collection was moved to the Trippenhuis. Subsequently, it became available to the public in 1815. The new Rijksmuseum, a Gothic Revival style structure, was inaugurated in 1885. The Rijksprentenkabinet, a subsidiary of the Rijksmuseum, holds one of Europe’s finest collections of drawings, prints and illuminated manuscripts.
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Established in 1973, the twin structures of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam were designed by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld and Japanese architect Kurokawa Kisho; although in different timelines, with the Kisho-designed new Exhibition Wing inaugurated in 1999. The unique design lets in as much natural light as possible to illuminate the exhibition space.
Mostly displaying creations of the van Gogh brothers, Vincent and Theo, the Museum also showcases paintings of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin and some older artists such as Jean-François Millet and Léon Lhermitte. Visitors can also see paintings by Monet and Manet, and a sculpture by Rodin.
Attached to the museum is a research library that is open to the public. Here, visitors can attend films and lectures about van Gogh.
National Portrait Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London
Established in 1856, the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) became the world’s first portrait gallery, with its collection solely focusing on the portraits of famous British people—with the selection based not on the artist, but the person portrayed.
Donated by Lord Ellesmere, the Chandos portrait is possibly the most famous in the collection. Supposedly, it depicts the great playwright William Shakespeare, and it was the first to enter NPG’s collection. Other notable works include portraits by Sir James Guthrie, Vanessa Bell, William Scrots and Patrick Branwell Brontë. The collection comprises portraits, drawings, caricatures and photographs.
Tate Britain & Tate Modern, London
Tate Britain entered the art scene when sugar tycoon and philanthropist Sir Henry Tate bequeathed his Millbank art gallery, in Westminster—including his art collection in it—to Britain.
Designed by Sidney Smith, the Tate Gallery first opened to the public in 1897. By 2000, it exclusively showcased British art and became known as the Tate Britain. As well as showing excellent examples of Jacobean and Elizabethan art, the collection does tremendous justice to 18th and 19th-century artists. Highlights include works by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Monet, John Constable, Hogarth, Gainsborough, the Pre-Raphaelites, William Blake, Reynolds, Stubbs and Constable.
Tate Modern (a restored power station shaped like an upside-down ‘T’ or a croquet mallet) came into being in 2000 when Tate Britain’s huge collection of modern art needed to be moved to a different location Designed by famed Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Herzog & de Meuron, Tate Modern is situated along the south bank of the River Thames.
The art is not in chronological order or by a school of thought. Rather, pieces follow thematic groups, such as surrealism, futurism, cubism, pop art and abstract expressionism. Notable works include Piet Mondrian, Thomas Struth, Picasso and Mark Rothko. Salvador Dali and Andy Warhol too feature prominently in Tate Modern.
There are a further two Tate galleries in Liverpool and St. Ives in Cornwall.