Private Museums of the Past and Present

Private Museums of the Past and Present
Some of the most beloved works of art can still be found in private collections both in the United States and abroad. I will discuss some notable private museums and their founders.

In the early 20th century, many wealthy Americans traveled to Europe, purchasing works of art to be returned to the United States for their private viewing. Some would later leave their collection for the public.

One of my favorite museums in New England is the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, MA. The ISG Museum gained international attention because of a theft in 1990 of thirteen (13) works of art. Some of the most prized are: Vermeer's "The Concert" (1663-1666) and Rembrandt's only seascape "Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee"(1633).

The ISG Museum also houses Titian's "Europa" (1562), a spectacular painting. Mrs. Gardner had her portrait painted by American artist John Singer Sargent in 1888 which can be seen in the museum today.

Another of my favorite cities for art is Washington, DC where the Phillips Collection resides. As the first museum of Modern art in America, it holds Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" (1880-1881) as well as Picasso's "The Blue Room" (1901) and Edgar Degas' "Dancers at the Barre" (1905).

The Phillips Collection is now open and celebrating their Centennial in 2021. The exhibit "Seeing Differently" can be viewed from 3/6 - 9/12, consisting of 200+ works by artists from the 19th century to present.

A private collection that I attempted to see when it was originally housed at a private residence is the Barnes Collection in Pennsylvania. In 1999 I traveled to Marion, PA, five (5) miles outside of Philadelphia to see "The Barnes."

I had contacted the museum in advance, asking to purchase tickets for a particular date and time when I would be in the area. We waited in our car, in an upscale residential neighborhood, only to find that we would not be admitted to the museum without tickets.

Art collector Dr. Albert Barnes charted the Barnes Foundation in 1922, having collected art and artifacts of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. In 2007 the Barnes Foundation relocated to Philadelphia. It was a controversial move, 'the scandal of the art world in modern America,' as portrayed in the movie "Art of the Steal" in 2009.

The Barnes Foundation is best known for Henri Matisse's "The Joy of Life" (Le Bonheur de Vivre) (1905-1906), Georges Seurat's "Models" (1886-1888), and sixty-nine (69) Cezannes, only second to the Louvre.

I have yet to make a visit to Philadelphia, the 'city of brotherly love'.

On the other side of the Atlantic, France has two new private art museums: The Louis Vuitton Foundation, sponsored by the group LVMH which opened the art museum in 2014, and the Bourse de Commerce - Pinault collection of contemporary art, on the right bank of Paris.

With a delayed opening due to Covid, the Bourse de Commerce, a $170M project near the Louvre and Pompidou Center is the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando.

Specifics remain a secret to this day. However, this we do know - the art will be regularly changed seasonally, and the opening show will include the history of discrimination and the value of black lives. The central rotunda contains vitrines in which to display objects d'art. Merveilleux!

You can own a canvas art print of Renoir's "Luncheon of the Boating Party" available here from

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