Museums are a haven of cultural preservation and historical significance, often telling the very story of a nation from its own unique perspective. Art speaks a language we can all understand and art museums are no exception, they are increasingly popular tourist destinations that draw in millions of people each year, proving to be at the top of the list of must-see tourist attractions in major cities around the world. Whether you’re an art aficionado or not, a museum has worlds to offer in terms of exploring a nation’s history and culture.
Often, the ingeniously curated exhibits demonstrate not only the artistic movements of a period, but an entire social awareness that helped shape history, documented in the remarkable and unique expressions of a generation. We need only visit an art museum to see for ourselves that something other than hanging canvases are placed before us for our review. And reading the convenient descriptions beneath the paintings definitely helps!
With that said, let’s take a look at which renowned art museums have received the most visitors, based on statistics taken from a survey conducted in 2012 and published in April 2013 by The Art Newspaper, a London based publication with offices in over 20 countries.
10. Musée de D‘Orsay, Paris: 3,600,000
The Musée de D‘Orsay attracts 3 million visitors each year to see the world’s largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces. The museum was formerly a railway station and officially opened in 1986. Major iconic artworks from the period between 1848 and 1915 are housed here and the variety of paintings makes for an intriguing French art history lesson.
9. Centre Pompidou, Paris: 3,800,000
The Centre Pompidou greeted well over 3 million visitors in 2012. This impressive structure definitely stands out in the streets of Paris. Bright colored tubes and mechanical structures decorate its exterior with a futuristic look making it stand true to its purpose of reflecting the art that it houses inside. It was designed by a team of European architects in a design competition and opened in 1972. The work was commissioned by the then president Georges Pompidou who wanted a “cultural center” to bring together mediums of art and propagate its creation to the public.
8.National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.: 4,200,000
The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC was first founded in 1937 after a generous donation by the then secretary of treasury, Andrew W. Mellon. The collection that over 4 million people come to see is comprised of primarily American and European art from the renaissance to the present. The building is surrounded by the Smithsonian museums and although the U.S. government heavily funds it, it does not pertain to the Smithsonian Institute. With free admission, the museum makes for a great stop while in D.C. It also features a unique sculpture garden with contemporary and modern artworks; the reflecting pool at its center is converted into a skating rink in the winter—that’d make a D.C. winter less bleak!
7. National Palace Museum, Taipei: 4,360,815
The National Palace Museum in Taiwan hosts upwards of 4 million visitors annually and exhibits an antiques collection of more than 696,000 ancient Chinese artifacts, spanning over 8,000 years of Chinese prehistory and history. The Chinese civil war that began in 1927 marks the origins of this museum who’s collection was originally housed in the Palace Museum of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Because of the ongoing war, the collection was evacuated from this location and eventually made its way to Taiwan. But the museum didn’t open its doors until 1965 and since then has displayed to millions of visitors its fine collection passed down by emperors.
6. Vatican Museums, Vatican City: 5,064,546
The Vatican Museums of Vatican City received 5,064, 546 visitors in 2012 that likely sought to see the most extensive collection of Renaissance masterpieces in the world. The famous Sistine Chapel is at the very end of the 54 galleries visitors must explore in order to enter it. The museums make up the largest museum complex in the world with a collection that spans over 3,000 years. The early origins of the museums began in 1506 when Pope Julius II first exhibited for public view the Roman sculpture, Laocoon and his sons, which depicts a scene from a tragedy by Sophocles, in the Vatican the same year of its discovery. Apart from connecting to the Sistine chapel, the museums also share some of the papal palace. Each year, millions visit this historic, and to many holy, building that houses thousands of ethnological and religious paintings and artifacts. It isn’t too often you can say you visited one of the most historic buildings on earth!
5. National Gallery, London: 5,163, 902
The National gallery located in London’s Trafalgar Square, was founded in 1824 and now hosts more than 5 million visitors annually. The museum houses a comparably small sized collection of over 2,000 artworks spanning the period between the 13th century and the 1900’s. After World War II, much of the collection was evacuated to Wales for safekeeping but was with some difficulty returned. The museum’s collection has remained small since prices of many master works on the market have skyrocketed in the latter part of the 20th century and exceed the means of the museum.
4. Tate Modern, London: 5,304,710
The Tate modern takes its origins in 1897 and hosted 5,304,710 visitors in 2012 alone. The Tate was founded after English collector and industrialist Henry Tate bequeathed his collection of exclusively British art to his country. The collection was expanded and after a period of pertaining to London’s National gallery, it was finally housed in its own building that opened in 2000. The museum ranks as one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions and has hosted as many as 40 million visitors since its inception. Over 70,000 artworks by more than 3,000 artists make up the Tate’s collection; one might consider it a refuge for the often-misconstrued artworks by modern artists.
3. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: 6,115,881
With 6,115, 881 people flocking to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, it wouldn’t be far-fetched to claim that it’s as popular a tourist attraction as Lady Liberty. The Met opened in 1870 and is home to over 2 million objects. Among the must see iconic artists exhibited in this museum are Pollock, Van Gogh, Renoir, and Picasso, to name a few. The variety of artworks spanning several decades and diverse cultures testify to the goal of the museum’s initial establishment, to expose the American people to the wonder of art and the bounty of art education. And with a ‘pay what you wish’ cost of admission, a visit to see the historic collection is well worth the crowds.
2. The British Museum, London: 6,701,036
Founded in 1753, the British Museum was the first national public museum in the world, granting free admission to all visitors and has since remained true to its mantra of admitting “all studious and courteous persons” at no cost. In 2012, 6,701,036 people visited the museum to view its extensive collection that first began with that of collector Sir Hans Sloane’s donation of over 70,000 objects to King George II in the 16th century. Since the 19th century, the British Museum’s collection has expanded greatly and now features its acquisition of the Rosetta stone and large collection of sculptures from the Parthenon in Greece, also known as the “Elgin marbles”, which were met with controversy. (Since the 1980’s, Greece had been requesting that the museum return the sculptures that they felt had been stolen. The British museum refused, claiming proper ownership.) Whether we can agree with the museum’s acquisition of the artifacts or not, at the very least we are all able to see them for ourselves.
1. The Louvre, Paris, France: 9,720, 260
With an annual 9,720,260 visitors, The Louvre is the most visited museum in the world. Rich collections of historical artworks abound in this military fortress–turned palace–turned museum. Built on the banks of the river Seine in the late 12th century, the Louvre was originally constructed as a wall defense meant to protect the city from Anglo-Norman invaders. The sheer magnitude of the project marks this historic monument as a testament to the strength of the French monarchy at the time. As the city far outgrew the confines of the wall, the remarkable building was then transformed into a palace throughout three centuries and was even home to the Sun King, Louis XIV in the 16th century. The Louvre didn’t become an official museum open to visitors until the turn of the 18th century. Millions of visitors flock to see the treasures stored inside its walls, among these being Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo along with over 30,000 priceless artworks. With such exuberance and such a vast and exceptional collection, it makes sense that the name “Louvre” is so closely matched to the French word “L’OEuvre”, which means ‘masterpiece’.
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