Let me say the big Metropolitan in Manhattan is not on this list for a reason. It’s too big and too crowded, OK? I’ve never felt so claustrophobic as I did the last time I visited.
Also, I see I did a rundown on New England museums and college galleries back in 2015, so you can go to the Red Barn archive for those.
With that, let’s turn the spotlight.
- Cleveland: The city was once the home of some powerful industrialists, including the Rockefellers, and this collection reflects that. It has some stellar old masters and a leading Asian collection. Plus, admission is free.
- Chicago: Masterpieces by the mile. A muscular feast for the eyeballs.
- National Gallery: The third of the truly encyclopedic collections on my list, I always feel it should have been built in Pittsburgh, where Andrew Mellon amassed his fortune. Still, it feels more leisurely to me than many others, and the Rothko court is my favorite. But don’t overlook the two rare Vermeers.
- Phillips Collection: Also in Washington, D.C., this assembly of old houses in the Dupont Circle neighborhood has an intimate feel and some stunning Impressionists and modern works, including major Americans.
- Dayton: I grew up with this then-free collection at hand. What makes it remarkable was the astute decision to go after masterworks by lesser known painters rather than third-rate works by the big names, a strategy the New York Times hailed.
- The Taft: This modest collection in the family homestead just off downtown Cincinnati is a disarming salute to personal collecting, one strong on period French like Corot.
- Baltimore: The famed Cone sisters’ collection of Impressionists and early modern masters is featured at the Baltimore Museum of Art on the edge of the Johns Hopkins campus. Don’t confuse it with the Walters, down by the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon Place, which goes more for antiquity and doodads. My bedroom in Bolton Hill looked out toward the apartment building where the sisters once crowded their assembly into a few rooms.
- Brooklyn: Way too overlooked, even with its major Asian galleries, among the best in America. Check the schedule before you go, since its budgeting closes halls on a rotating basis.
- Victoria, British Columbia: The Royal BC Museum, situated downtown by the ferry landing, focuses on natural history, but its presentation of indigenous culture is stunning. Pacific Northwest Native totem poles, lodges, clothing and costuming are reverently displayed, gallery after gallery. Tell me this isn’t a visual masterpieces experience. It really is a vast art installation.
- MOMA: Don’t know what it’s like now, but I did get to view the panoramic Monet, back before the fire, as well as Picasso’s Guernica, now returned to Spain. All this was before the Museum of Modern Art expanded its home.