Great Smaller Museums of Europe

This book is as good as a holiday. What could be more agreeable than to wander through the best little museums in Europe in the company of such a guide as James Stourton of Sotheby’s? This is a cosmopolitan book, which not only takes us to Paris and Vienna, but to Humlebaek on the Danish Coast (the Louisiana Museum) and Winterthur (not H. F. duPont’s American furniture collection in Delaware, but the Oskar Reinhart Collection in Switzerland).

Everyone is likely to have visited some of the museums, not least because they include some London examples. But visitors to the Mauritshuis in the Hague may not know the star-studded Kröller-Muller Museum in Gelderland.

Restricting the book to just 35 museums must have challenged Mr Stourton: it could easily have been filled with examples from Paris alone. But the discipline of the selection adds to the reader’s pleasure, for this is the crème de la crème. And even within its tight confines, the variety is remarkable. The Musee d’Unterlinden is included for one masterpiece – Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece – just as the Picasso Museum at Antibes and the Salvador Dali-Theatre Museum at Figueres are focused on a single artist. The Lenbachaus in Munich, which ought to celebrate the oeuvre of its founder, Franz von Lenbach, is much more visited for the collections given after his death. The Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna is still part of an art school.

Most of these museums, however, reflect the passions of individual collectors. One of the most remarkable is the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Krakow, founded as a national pantheon of Polish history and endeavour, yet famous for one of the greatest masterpieces of Renaissance art, Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. Out of piety, Mr Stourton also illustrates the gorgeous Raphael Portrait of a Youth which disappeared during the Second World War. What a pity the publishers were unable to prevent some of the Polish letters seeping into the rest of the text.

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