In my newest novel featuring protagonists Nara Blake and Alex Collier, they work at the Tate Britain, one of the foremost art museums in London. This is a natural and fun setting for me, since I love visiting art museums. I overdid it a bit on my last trip to the Netherlands, and visited four art museums in six days — the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and two in the Hague, Mauritshaus and Gemeentemuseum. Whew!
I have visited a number of prominent art museums and galleries in Europe and the U.S., but have also found hidden gems in small towns and other out of the way places. I love the Museum of Costa Rican Art in San Jose with its exhibits of works by Latin American artists, and the Collection Museum in Lincoln, UK, formerly the Usher Gallery. I especially liked the depictions there of the “Lincoln imp,” the symbol of that city since the Middle Ages. Even my hometown of Newton, Illinois has a small museum attached to the public library.
In my newest novel, tentatively titled Sacrifice, Nara and Alex work as art historians at the Tate. They travel to Tardienta, Spain when the museum is contacted about a notebook belonging to artist and activist Felicia Browne, a British woman who was killed there during the Spanish Civil War.
During the next few months, I plan to blog about museums I visit, as well as bookstores and libraries, my other favorite places.
Below, viewing Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
With all the visits I have made to art museums, I have come up with a few tips for a more enjoyable visit.
- Take your time. You can’t see and appreciate everything, especially in a very large museum. Maybe set a time limit.
- When you walk into a room, stop and look around. What piece draws you? Why?
- If there is a piece that you particularly want to see, look at the map and determine which room it is in. If it is a very famous piece, like Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in Amsterdam or Picasso’s “Guernica” in Madrid, the room will be crowded. Relax and take your time. You are in a room full of art lovers.
- Take a few photos if it is allowed. Often they are allowed as long as you don’t use flash. Photos will serve as good reminders of what you saw. But don’t let taking photos replace appreciating the art with your own eyes.
- If you are feeling overwhelmed, or just want more information, consider a guided tour. You sometimes have to pay a little bit; sometimes not. The guides are normally very knowledgeable and will point out details most of us would not have thought to look for.
- Lastly, have a snack, or lunch. Most larger art museums have wonderful restaurants, and it’s fun eating in the atmosphere of art. My best meals (that I can think of off the top of my head) were in the National Gallery in Washington, DC, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Prado in Madrid. And in my own hometown, the Nasher Museum at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina has a wonderful Sunday brunch.