Guide To Small Museums With Supersized Collections
Here's my guide to 27 of the world's best small museums. Despite their size, these small museums have giant art collections.
Great art often hides in less famous sites. These little gems preach quality over quantity. They boast magnificent -- and sometimes overlooked -- treasure trove collections. On a visit, you may feel like you've been let in on a special secret.
Some of these stunners display art work amid original period settings, for a true yesteryear experience. Some house single artist or thematic collections, which can be so revelatory.
Everyone loves places like the Louvre. But sometimes a large museum, with miles and miles of art, just produces museum fatigue.
In contrast, with a small museum, you can take a deep dive into the beautiful art on display. And you usually get to admire the art in peace and quiet without being jostled by selfie stick wielding tourists. This all leads to a more profound experience, where peace and elegance trump chaos and crowds.
27 of the World's Best Small Museums
Here are my picks for the best small museums in the world, for your art or museum bucket list (in no special order). I've focused on intimate museums in the United States and Europe, which is my niche.
1. Musee Marmottan Monet, Paris France
The Musée Marmottan Monet is a small jewel of a museum, tucked away in Paris' sleepy posh 16th arrondissement. Because of its far flung location, it's largely devoid of tourist throngs.
The Musée Marmottan Monet was once home to art critic and collector Paul Marmottan, who bequeathed his collection of Napoleonic art objects. It has a specially built basement gallery with an exceptional overview of Claude Monet's art work. In fact, it's the world's largest Monet collection.
There are over 300 pieces, from his early caricatures to his late works from his gardens in Giverny. The museum has paintings by fellow Impressionists Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Manet, and Morisot.
The museum also has Monet's famous painting, Impression, Sunrise. The painting is significant because it gave birth to the name of the art movement. It was first shown at what was derogatorily dubbed the "Exhibition of the Impressionists" in 1874.
Here's my complete guide to the Musee Marmottan Monet.
Address: 2 rue Louis Boilly 75016 Paris, France
Hours: Daily: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, Thursday until 9:00 pm, closed Mondays
Entry: € 12
Metro: Line 9 to La Muette
2. Kröller-Müller Museum, Netherlands
Almost every continent has a museum with Van Gogh paintings on display. But one of the best, and often overlooked, is the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo Netherlands. The museum is about an hour outside of Amsterdam.
Kröller-Müller is a museum of modern and contemporary art with more than 20,000 pieces in its collection. It’s a great place to see the development of modern art, from the first Impressionist painters to some significant contemporary artists.
Most significantly, the Kröller-Müller Museum is Vincent Van Gogh's second home. With almost 90 paintings and over 180 drawings, the museum has the world's second largest Van Gogh collection.
Some of Van Gogh's most famous masterpieces are here -- Cafe Terrace at Night, The Potato Eaters, Self-Portrait, Portrait of Joseph Roulin, and The Sower.
On top of that, the museum has paintings by Seurat, Mondrian, and Picasso. It also boasts one of the largest sculpture gardens in all of Europe.
Address: Houtkampweg 6 6731 AW Otterlo
Hours: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Entry fee: € 11.10
3. Sir John Soane Museum, London England
Sir John Soane was one of Britain’s foremost Neo-Classical architects. He created his own museum, and you can feel his spirit and legacy in the cluttered, bejeweled place.
Built in 1812, Sloane designed the gloomily-lit house-museum to hold his vast collection of art and objects from around the world. Soane sometimes used his museum as an educational tool, quizzing his students on the derivation of a frieze or painting.
Soane bequeathed his museum to England on the condition that nothing be changed or moved. The Soane museum was lovingly restored and, as was the plan, is nearly identical to when Sloane died in 1837.
Soane was a curiosity collector. He purchased art based on whether it amused or interest him, not on its intrinsic significance. You'll find a mishmash of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian artifacts, urns, statues, and vases.
There are also some world class paintings, including ones by Watteau, Turner, Canaletto, and William Thomas Beckford. Of special note are the paintings by 18th century artist and satirist William Hogarth. Hogarth satirizes the foibles and morality of society. In The Rake's Progress series, a young man inherits a fortune and blithely squanders it.
Address: 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, Holborn London
Hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, last entry at 4:30
Entry fee: free
Pro tip: On the first Tuesday of the month, there's an evening candlelit tour.
4. Barnes Foundation, Philadelphia US
The Barnes Foundation is a must see site in Philadelphia. It's one of the country's best and most impressive museums. The Barnes Foundation was founded in 1922 by art collector Albert C. Barnes. He loved art and was impassioned to share his appreciation.
He established himself as a "bold and ambitious" collector. He spent a fortune buying up Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings from then up and coming artists like Henri Matisse, Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, and Pablo Picasso.
As a result, the Barnes Foundation houses an unparalleled one-of-a-kind collection of rare Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. You'll find masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Seurat, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Chaime Soutine. There's an astonishing 181 Renoirs alone.
The paintings are hung helter skelter on the walls, in a dense clutter amidst medieval artwork, relics, and furniture. Barnes intentionally left the paintings un-curated and unlabeled.
Here's my guide to the Barnes Foundation and its rather colorful and controversial history.
Address: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Hours: Monday & Wednesday through Sun: 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, Friday 11:00 am to 5:00 pm, Tuesday Closed
Entry fee: $25, college students & under 18 $5
5. Rodin Museum, Paris France
Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture. He was absurdly talented, his works a torrent of expressive power. Rodin's titular museum is housed in the 18th century Hotel Biron, a romantic mansion where Rodin created some of his greatest works.
The museum's permanent collection includes many iconic Rodin sculptures and works from Rodin's brilliant student (and lover) Camille Claudel. This is where you'll find The Kiss, Burghers of Calais, The Thinker, and the Gates of Hell.
The Rodin Museum also has a vast and verdant sculpture garden. In it, Rodin hand placed some of his favorite and most iconic sculptures. It's a pleasure to stroll through and dream.
Here's my comprehensive guide to the Rodin Museum in Paris.
Address: 79, rue de Varenne, 7th arrondissement
Hours: Tues to Sun 10:00 am to 6:30 pm
Entry fee: 12 euros, the sculpture garden is 4 euros extra
6. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston US
If you're an art lover, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a must visit attraction in Boston Massachusetts. The exquisite Venetian-style palazzo houses gorgeous Italian Renaissance and Dutch Golden Age paintings. And it's mostly the work of one extraordinary woman -- Isabella Stewart Gardner.
Born in New York in 1840, Isabella Stewart Gardner was an arts patron, philanthropist and socialite. While traveling in Europe, Gardner developed a passion for Italian Renaissance art. Over time, and after inheriting her father's fortune, she amassed a collection of more than 7,500 paintings and objects spanning antiquity to the 1920s.
On the first floor, highlights include the Spanish Cloister, the Blue Room, and the Yellow Room. On the second floor, there's the Dutch Room, the Raphael Room, the Early Italian Room, and the Tapestry Room. On the third floor, you'll find the the Veronese Room and the Titian Room.
Some of the must see masterpieces are Titian's Rape of Europa, Piero della Francesca's Hercules, Sargent's El Jaleo, and Rembrandt's Self-Portrait at Age 23. There's also some lovely Botticelli and Raphael paintings, a huge number of Sargent pieces, and a drawing by Michelangelo.
Here's my complete guide to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
7. Frick Museum, New York City US
The Frick Museum is situated in the opulent residence of Henry Clay Frick. It's one of New York City's few remaining Gilded Age mansions, spanning an entire city block along Fifth Avenue. The collection was assembled by Frick, who was a prime player in the "race for the great masters."
Frick amassed an extraordinary collection of decorative arts and paintings, especially strong in old masters. Like Gardner, he even arranged the paintings himself.
The Frick houses masterpieces from the Renaissance to the early 20th century. It's home to masterpieces by Vermeer, Ingres, Goya, Fragonard, Velazquez, Whistler, Ingres, and Bellini. There are four Rembrandt paintings.
Amid the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, this is a tranquil spot to travel back in time and soak in some fantastic art.
Address: 1 E 70th St, New York, NY 10021
Hours: Thurs to Sun 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Entry fee: $22
8. Kimbell Art Museum, Ft. Worth Texas US
Opened in 1972, the Kimbell is housed in an iconic building designed by architects Louis Kahn and Renzo Piano. It's the perfect example of supreme quality over quantity in a museum, truly one of the best museums in the US. The collection was compiled by self made Texas millionaire Kay Kimbell, who gifted it to Ft. Worth.
The permanent collection has a particulary good old masters presence, with works by Caravaggio, Fra Angelico, Rembrandt, Titian, and Goya.
But it also has modern works by Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, and Matisse. Look for Caravaggio's Card Sharps, Georges de la Tour's The Cheat with the Ace of Clubs, Mantegna's Madonna and Child, and Bellini's Christ Blessing.
The Kimbell is also home to the only Michelangelo painting in the United States, The Torment of Saint Anthony. It's a small painting Michelangelo created when he was only 12 or 13, revealing his burgeoning talent.
Address: 3333 Camp Bowie Blvd, Ft. Worth TX
Hours: Click here
Entry fee: $18
9. Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh PA US
The Andy Warhol Museum is found in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. This wonderful single artist museum celebrates Pittsburgh's hippest native son, who made himself a world famous Pop artist.
As the Prince of Pop, Warhol was a hugely significant artist of the second half of the 20th century. Warhol challenged traditional norms of what constituted art.
Warhol cannily merged superficial commerce and fine art. He popularized robotic, mass produced images. With his trademark platinum fright wigs and Rayban sunglasses, he adopted a mythic persona.
Opened in 1994, the Andy Warhol Museum is a chic urban venue. It's an immersive and well curated museum. If you're a Warholic, you may think you've fallen into a fancified version of the factory.
The museum has 7 floors in chronological order. Four of them showcase a decade of Warhol art per floor. You start from the top and work your way down.
You'll see seminal works from the 1940s to Warhol's death in 1987, with explanations of Warhol's creative process. The museum also has a permanent room on the 4th floor for viewing Warhol films.
Address: 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Friday until 10:00 pm
Entry fee: adults $20, children $10
Museum parking lot: $8
10. The Clark Institute, Williamstown MA US
Williamstown is also home to the vaunted Clark Art Institute. It's one of the United State's best museums, focusing on historic European and American art. The museum is unique in that it seeks to be both an art museum and a center of learning to expand public appreciation of art.
The museum has been fully renovated and expanded in a mix of architectural styles. The museum is home to some beautiful works byAmerican Winslow Homer like Undertow and Two Guides.
It also has a world class collection of French Impressionist paintings (30 Renoir paintings!) and some lovely British art by the likes of Sargent, Constable, and Turner.
Look for Degas' Self Portrait and Dancers in the Classroom, Morisot's The Bath, and Monet's Tulip Fields. One of my favorite pieces is Gilbert Stuart's George Washington.
The Clark Institute is located on a 140 acre compound. It has well marked (and free) hiking trails for year round exploration.
Address: 225 South
Hours: Tues to Sun 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Entry fee: $20
11. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Italy
The Guggenheim Museum is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, a must see site along Venice's Grand Canal. It holds one of the finest modern art collections in the world. Truly! If you love 20th century art, the golden age of modern art, this museum is a must visit in Venice.
Virtually every piece is a seminal work of art. Guggenheim's collection includes works from the major movements of Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism.
There's an entire room dedicated to her beloved Jackson Pollack, an artist Guggenheim "discovered." You can see works by Picasso, de Chirico, Vassily Kandinsky, Joan Miro, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Magritte, Willem de Kooning, Salvador Dali, and Alexander Calder.
Address: 704 Dorsoduro, 30123 Venice
Hours: open daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, closed Tuesday
Entry fee: adults €15, students under 26 €9, children under 10 free
12. Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris France
The Musee Jacquemart-Andre is another oddly overlooked museum, located just off the Champs-Elysees in the 8th arrondissement. It's usually empty unless there's a special exhibition.
The collection is housed in a beautiful mansion, which dates to Baron Haussmann's massive renovation of Paris. Edouard Andre and Nelie Jacquemart wanted their home to be as grand as the new Paris. So they set about creating a gorgeous art collection and renovating the mansion to showcase their pieces.
And there are some standout masterpieces. The museum has Dutch pieces by Rembrandt and Van Dyke and a large collection of 14th and 15th century Italian art.
The painting of St. George and the Dragon, shown above, is deemed one of the greatest achievements in Italian Renaissance art. It's the jewel of the Jacquemart-Andre.
Another astonishing piece is a massive 1745 Tiepolo fresco titled Henri III Being Welcomed to the Contarini Villa. It greets you at the top of the spectacular main stairway.
Address: 158 boulevard Haussmann Paris
Entry fee: € 12. Permanent collection + exhibition is € 15.
Hours: Daily 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, late hours until 8:30 pm during special exhibitions
13. Bargello Museum, Florence Italy
The National Museum of the Bargello in Florence has a world class collection of Renaissance sculptures. Despite that, and because Florence is so packed with treasures, the Bargello is a hidden gem in Florence.
In 1865, the Bargello opened as a museum by royal decree. In the 19th century, it was restored to its former glory. The halls and galleries of the Bargello are arranged around a large open courtyard.
Inside the courtyard, you'll find an arched colonnade, arched windows, and magnificent sculptures. There's a monumental exterior staircase built in the 14th century by Neri di Fioravante. On the stone wall above the staircase are the coat of arms of aristocratic families that served as judges in Florence.
Inside, the Bargello boasts early Michelangelo works, some of Donatello's most famous sculptures, and works by other famous Renaissance artists like Cellini and Giambologna. Basically, the Bargello is to Renaissance sculpture what the Uffizi Gallery is to Renaissance painting.
Here's my complete guide the Bargello Museum.
Address: Via del Proconsolo 4
Hours: Hours vary depending on the season. Typically, the bargello is open from 8:15 am to 1:50 pm. In high season, April to September, it's open until 4:50 pm.
Entry fee: € 8, free the first Sunday of the month. You can also pre-purchase skip the line tickets online at a surcharge.
14. Leopold Museum, Vienna Austria
Opened in 2001 and situated in Vienna's Museumsquarter complex, the Leopold Museum holds one of the world's most important collection of Austrian art.
With over 6,000 art works, the museum has a thematic collection of Art Nouveau and Expressionist masterpieces from the first half of the 20th century. They were assembled by Adolf and Elisabeth Leopold.