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Europe's best art galleries

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

There are no paintings to please all. However, if you have a penchant for Monet’s delicate brush strokes, enjoy searching for hidden messages in the works of Da Vinci or admire intricate artwork of the Dutch Masters, there’s a gallery for you! Here is our definitive list of the Best Art Galleries to Visit in Europe.

Musée D’Orsay, Paris

Nestled on Paris’ left bank in the 7th arrondissement, Musée d’Orsay can be seen from the River Seine in all its glory. The interminable Beaux-Arts building was once an old railway station, became a postal depot for POW’s during the Second World War and even played a supporting role in an Orson Welles movie. Today, the splendid interior boasts unrivalled collections of French art and cultural pieces from the mid-1800s to the early 20th century. It’s a draw for lovers of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movements with awe-inspiring works from Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne and Manet on display. The finely dabbed brushstrokes of Renoir’s ‘Bal du Moulin de la Galette’, captivates with joyous intent – a timeless portrayal of 19th century Parisian life, while Monet’s ‘Gare Saint-Lazare’ painted in 1877 transports you to the era of steam trains and introduces you to the station synonymous with his childhood.

Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Florence’s Uffizi Gallery sits close to the Arno River, a short walk from Ponte Vecchio. Once a residence of the wealthy Medici’s, this gallery showcases a vast collection of artwork and sculptures, ranging from the medieval era to the 18th century. As you walk through exquisite halls, stop to admire ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Leonardo da Vinci – a revolutionary piece ahead of its time. This painting is particularly formulaic, creating a spiritual triangular space, which aims to separate key figures from surrounding chaos and disorder. Da Vinci uses his ‘sfumato’ technique in the painting, allowing shades and tones to blend into one another without lines or constrictions which is fascinating to see. Other highlights include Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ – an ethereal portrait of grace and beauty, plus, there are several star attractions from Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian and Caravaggio. If you wish to enjoy a private tour with a knowledgeable guide, several combination tours are available - the most popular being a tour of the Uffizi and Florence’s Duomo.

Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres, Spain

Wild, wacky and engaging, the Salvador Dalí Museum and Theatre in the quaint northern Spanish town of Figueres is a bit like the artist himself. Before you enter, you gain a sense of what’s to come from the unusual exterior. The castle-like structure surrounded by cypress trees features turrets bedecked with giant eggs, and on deep pink walls, hundreds of Catalan bread decorations tempt you to take a closer look. The interior is equally as bonkers. ‘Lincoln in Dalivision’ boasts a clever use of abstract art. Dalí’s wife Gala is in the foreground, naked with her back to the viewer, however, squint your eyes just a little and the pixelated canvas morphs into the face of Abraham Lincoln before your eyes! The building is a labyrinth difficult to escape from, as if Dalí wanted you to see every piece before you depart. Golden Oscar mannequins line the courtyard in various poses, and the glass cupola adds to the main gallery’s atmosphere by letting in copious rays of natural light. One of Dalí’s most famous surrealist paintings ‘The Persistence of Memory’ complete with melting clocks is in residence but the pièce de résistance is the ‘Central Panel of the Wind Palace Ceiling’. This enormous work is based on his life with wife Gala, a journey of dreams and a representation of different passages of their life together. Even if you are not a fan of art, you’ll still be discussing the merits of this magnificent piece hours later in a bodega with friends.

The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Set in Amsterdam’s Museum Quarter, Rijksmuseum is the home of the Dutch Masters. With 80 galleries showcasing 8,000 objects, you’ll need to schedule a good half-day or longer to gain the most from your visit. During the Golden Age, the Dutch Masters all had one thing in common, illustrating various aspects of life in The Netherlands. Rembrandt’s most revered masterpiece ‘The Night Watch’ painted in 1642 is displayed in its own gallery as the museum’s centerpiece. The painting shows the company of civic guardsmen, who banded together to defend their cities. Vermeer’s ‘The Milkmaid’ depicts the solitary life of a servant, painted in cool hues of blue and ochre, while Avercamp’s glorious ‘Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters’ portrays brighter times when communities unified to enjoy outdoor activities. When you’ve exhausted the Dutch Masters, head for Philips Wing and enjoy a walk-through history with modern interpretations, objects and artefacts on display or venture to the Asian Pavilion to see the magnificent statue of Shiva Nataraja.

Tate Modern, London

Located inside renovated Bankside Power Station on London’s South Bank, Tate Modern’s industrial, functional exterior attempts to prepare you for what lies within. This museum (now London’s most-visited attraction), focuses not on traditional, but on challenging modern works by great abstract, cubist, impressionist and surrealist artists including Picasso, Dalí, Miró and Matisse. The gallery also stems into the conceptual and post-conceptual artworld with iconic pieces by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. In addition to contemporary artworks, the Tate Modern viewing platform boasts 360-degree views across London which is a present-day artwork of its own.

Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice

Located in Venice’s charming Dorsoduro district next to the Grand Canal is Gallerie dell’Accademia. The main museum of the city, this delightful gallery focuses on what it knows best, Venetian and Italian Renaissance art. The ornate building, once Venice’s school of painting, sculpture and architecture couldn’t have a better purpose. Today, it displays unrivalled collections from the 14th to 18th centuries featuring artists such as Titian, Bellini, Veronese and Tintoretto. As you walk through adjoining rooms, cast your eyes upon Tintoretto’s ‘Resurrection’ and ‘Creation of the Animals’ before taking in the somber mood of Titian’s ‘Pieta’. These paintings and more each tell a story and show in-depth personal perceptions of the past painted with myriad colours and techniques. Should you wish to view artwork with a local guide, private tours are available, plus you get to skip any queues.

The Louvre, Paris

How could we compile a list of the best galleries to visit in Europe and exclude the Louvre in Paris? It is the world’s largest, most visited museum with a huge collection of 35,000 artworks divided into three separate exhibition sections. A main highlight of the Louvre is Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Mona Lisa’. One of his most famous paintings, the identity of the woman is thought to be Lisa Gherardini - wife of a Florentine merchant. As you feel her eyes following you around the room, you glance back, noticing her enigmatic smile shows a hint of knowing. As many art connoisseurs are aware, Da Vinci was renowned for placing hidden messages and symbols in his greatest works, which makes his subjects even more intriguing to view. However, as enchanting this painting is, there is much more to The Louvre. In the Denon Wing, the statue of ‘Victoire de Samothrace’ will captivate and inspire. Presented at the top of a staircase, the ‘Winged Victory’ takes you by surprise as you navigate the corridors. Also don’t leave without viewing ‘La Liberte Guidant le Peuple’ (Liberty Leading the People) an iconic symbol of French patriotism painted by Eugène Delacroix in 1830. You can avoid crowds by taking an intimate after-hours tour of the Louvre for a maximum of 6 people. These tours take place every Friday at 5pm and should be booked in advance.

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