According to my family and friends, I am an “art museum nut”. I readily admit it! All my life I have been enchanted by the talents of the great master painters, be it classical or modern artists.
I even took up painting myself years ago, when we lived in Libya. I was not very good, but I managed to finish a few canvases, one of which my mother wanted, a cubistic still life.
When my mother died a few years ago, I was in the curious position of inheriting my own painting.
I guess living in the Gulf region for many years, where there is a distinct lack of art museums, although several new galleries have sprung up in the last few years around the region, I make a beeline for an art gallery or museum of art, whenever we arrive at a new destination.
A couple of months ago, we landed in Brussels for a quick visit. The Museum of Modern Art in Brussels is an absolute treasure trove. I viewed paintings, 19th and 20th century art, and found some of my favourite impressionist artists displayed with works I had never even seen in my art books.
Brussels also offers a quaint little museum called The Comic Strip Museum. I am not entirely sure, you could count comic strip artists in the same breath as the grand masters, but the little museum was nevertheless interesting with the original Tintin comic books and their original artwork.
Strangely enough there was also a small exhibition of the Danish storybook teller, Hans Christian Andersen, whose birth 200 years ago is celebrated around the globe this year, complete with a Danish actress reading one of his stories, The story of a mother, on a tape in the museum. I would guess, I was the only visitor to the museum that day, who understood a word of the story, but when I mentioned this to the very nice custodian lady, she said: “I know the story, I can’t, of course, understand the words, but I like listening to the tape anyway!”
One of my all - time favourite museums is the Museo del Prado in Madrid. I’ve been intrigued by the Spanish painters, Francisco Goya and Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, for many years.
It is very easy to spend three or four hours in the Prado without realising that time is moving on in the outside world.
Look for the gallery with Velazquez painting entitled “Las Meninas”. This is a fascinating painting, possibly from the artist’s studio from 1656, four years before his death. The centrepiece is the Infanta Margarita, the only child of King Philip IV and it’s an incredible picture to view. There is the princess in her billowing dress looking like a china doll with two dwarves in the right hand corner looking after a bull mastiff. If you look closely in the mirror on the far wall, you can see the king and ... queen watching the artist at work and who is that figure in the background at the entrance to the room?
In the Royal Academy of Art in London I saw a collection on loan from the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. Of all the masterpieces on display in this unique collection, assembled through many years by the father and son of the famous Danish brewery company, Carlsberg, I remember the marble sculptures of the face of Aggripina the Younger, wife of emperor Claudius from 41 AD and the bearded emperor, Caracalla from 212 AD, still looking strong and powerful.
I also very much liked a painting entitled, The Smoking Party, by the painter Wilhelm Bendz, depicting young Danish gentlemen with their long pipes enjoying a male-only evening with musical accompaniment to their smoking.
During my last visit to Chicago, I spent an enjoyable afternoon in the Art Institute of Chicago, which offers quite a remarkable collection from many different countries around the world. I was surprised to find the Institute is home to the famous Vincent van Gogh painting, Bedroom in Arles from 1888. The Simplicity of the room and the glowing colours are very memorable.
Another item from the Institute sticks in my mind and that is the bronze sculpture of The Bronco Buster by Frederick Remington from 1895.
At the Aalborg Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, I came across an unusual artist called Vilhelm Lundstroem – in fact, I discovered a giant artist in my own backyard so to speak. He painted often in a cubistic style and later made some impressionistic self-portraits so compelling that the critics claimed he was insane, when he broke the mould of contemporary artists with his exciting style.
I love travelling to these art museums and galleries around the world, but as the Gulf countries continue to develop their infrastructure and public institutions, I hope that the governments will not forget the cultural side of tourism, for many of the major destinations of the globe can point to the millions of visitors, who often visit them just to see one painting such as, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris.
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