Here’s our list of eight must-see art galleries that the world has to offer. Marvel 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. Never intended to be a gallery or a museum initially, but built for offices (thus the term Uffizi) for the Florentine judiciary and guilds, this magnificent U-shaped renaissance building titled Galleria Degli Uffizi has become one of the most significant, most visited art galleries in the world.
Officially opened to the public since 1765 and declared a formal museum exactly a century later, most paintings (once owned by the art-adoring Medici family) 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. The main building was originally built to resemble The Vatican and was formally opened to the public in 1838; 14 years after 38 paintings were bought from the estate collection of John Julius Angerstein (1735–1823) by the British government and displayed in the late merchant’s house in 1824.
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, once Tate Gallery emerged that year, the National Gallery was relieved of that responsibility.
With a total of about 2,000 paintings regaling the collection, which includes most of the creations by Venetian and Florentine maestros of that period, 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, Leonardo, Oscar-Claude Monet, Johannes Vermeer, Raphael and Paul Cézanne.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Built along the lines of a Greek temple, with colossal colonnades, Scotsman William Henry Playfair was the inspired architect who played with the thought of ancient Greek structures to design this neoclassical style building.
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) and managed by the government-owned National Galleries of Scotland, which 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 tranquility.
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 in an effort to promote and encourage art and creativity. In 1918, as the newly formed Czechoslovakia came into being, the main collection was housed 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 master strokes by geniuses such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Bellini, van Dyck, Rubens and Monet.
Originating in 1808 in the form of a royal museum founded by the King of Holland Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon I’s brother), its primary collection comprised paintings from the 1800-born art museum Nationale Kunst-Galerij that were not parceled away to France. The collection was shifted to the Trippenhuis, once the Bonapartes were toppled from their thrones, and began to be displayed to the public as Rijksmuseum te Amsterdam 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. Both the curved structures are contrastingly juxtaposed in their opacity and transparency, mirroring the conflicting mindset of the disturbed post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. 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 (contemporaries of Vincent van Gogh) 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.
An open-to-public research library is also attached to the museum along with an auditorium, where films about van Gogh can be featured and public lectures held.
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 on the person portrayed.
The most famous in its vast collection is the Chandos portrait (donated by Lord Ellesmere), supposedly that of the great playwright William Shakespeare, which 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
London’s Tate Britain and Tate Modern preserve British art collected from the 16th century onwards—including what constitutes as contemporary and modern art.
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 was unveiled to the public in 1897, it later only started showcasing only British art and renamed Tate Britain in 2000. As well as showing excellent examples of Jacobean and Elizabethan art, the collection does tremendous justice to 18th and 19th century artists, such as 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 arranged differently—not in chronological order or by a school of thought, but by 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.