Mercado González – Costa Mesa, CADecember 7, 2023
Norton Simon Museum – Pasadena, CA
Last Visited: August 2023 & January 2024
It had been some time since Tracy and I had visited one of our favorite local art museums, so when my childhood friend Denny visited us from Canada, we decided to take him to the Norton Simon Museum. Founded in 1922 as the Pasadena Art Institute, it segued in 1954 to the Pasadena Art Museum. In the 1970s, the museum reached out to wealthy industrialist, philanthropist and art collector, Norton Simon. Simon was looking for a permanent location for his gigantic collection of more than 4,000 objects.
For a short period in 1973 it was called the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art, but as debts mounted, Simon took on the museum’s financial obligations, and, after yet another iteration, in June 1974, the museum closed for renovation. After combining the Pasadena Art Museum and Norton Simon’s collections, it reopened on March 1, 1975. In October of 1975, the name changed yet again, this time to the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena. Simon passed away on June 2, 1993. In a tribute to her husband, actress Jennifer Jones (Simon) oversaw a major renovation ($5 million) of the interior galleries (from 1996-1999) by famous architect Frank Gehry (see Walt Disney Concert Hall).
Jennifer Jones (who had a wildly interesting life of her own) made a number of Hollywood connections from both her film and television career. As a result, Billy Wilder, Gregory Peck, Cary Grant, David Geffen, Tom Brokaw, Candice Bergen and many others served on the board of the Norton Simon museum at one time or another. More than 12,000 objects are on view in the Norton Simon’s galleries and sculpture gardens. Fortunately for you, we’ll only share a smattering of what we saw on our most recent visits. Upon arrival we were greeted by one of 12 original casts of Auguste Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.
Simon was a big fan of Rodin, so there are many of his works in the sculpture garden leading to the entrance. They include Saint John The Baptist and the Monument to Balzac, which was not very well received by critics of the day due to its “grotesque look.”
On the left is Rodin’s Pierre de Wissant, Nude, who looks like he just saw another last-minute Chargers defeat. I thought the sculpture on the right might have been Saint John The Baptist after his you-know-what, but instead it is called, The Walking Man (I assume he must have needed assistance).
Three Van Gogh’s (Portrait of the Artists’s Mother, The Mulberry Tree and Portrait of a Peasant) were on display.
Gauguin’s The Swineherd along with Georges Lacombe’s The Chestnut Gatherers caught our interest as we perused the gallery.
Next up, a couple of mini sculptures by Edgar Degas, The Tub and Horse Galloping on Right Foot. I think Degas could have used a PR agency to spruce up those titles a bit.
Here’s a couple of paintings by Frenchman Henri Matisse.
Harkening back to our 2023 Mexico City trip, we admired Diego Rivera’s The Flower Vendor (Girl with Lilies). The adjacent artwork placard said calla lilies are “associated with funerals and death,” and the way things had been going for me lately, Tracy marked that down for future reference.
Some art is harder for me to comprehend. 1915’s The Traveler supposedly depicts “a woman wearing a yellow necklace and high collared cape who reads a magazine or newspaper in her seat on a train, grasping a green umbrella in one gloved hand.” Well, it is colorful, and I do see the umbrella.
We descended the circular staircase to the home of numerous Asian sculptures and artifacts. First up was an 18th-century wall created for temporary use in temple ceremonies with scenes of Krishna’s life. It’s originally from Kerala, India, complete with carved and painted wooden panels. Beautiful!
Many items are from the second and third centuries, like these two.
These pieces range from the ninth through the 14th centuries.
We always discover new and interesting pieces each time we visit.
Making our way back upstairs for more paintings, Peter Paul (but no Mary) Rubens painted this portrait of Anne of Austria, Queen of France (l), while Francisco de Goya is credited with this early 19th century portrait of a Spanish noblewoman.
It’s pretty easy to spot a Rembrandt, while Élizabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun’s 1793 Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky, really popped.
We traveled from the Interior of Saint Peter’s, Rome, to Christ Crowned With Thorns.
A huge paining dominated this room. Tiepolo’s Allegory of Virtue and Nobility originally was originally affixed to the ceiling of a palazzo in Venice.
A 14th century altarpiece along with Lippi’s 1483 panels of Saints Benedict and Apollinia (l) and Saints Paul and Frediano.
We checked out a few Madonnas. Raphael’s Madonna and Child with Book is in the center. None were titled Like A Virgin.
Throughout the day I could always find Tracy wherever that were pictures of flowers. Cezanne’s Tulips in a Vase is in the center.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens along with Guido Remi’s painting of the Patron Saint of Musicians Saint Cecilia struck a chord with us.
We ran into some Happy Lovers along with the love affair of Mars and Venus …
We stopped to admire a few more 17th century paintings …
… then walked back (or would that be forward) to the 19th century to see a few paintings we missed, including Monet’s Garden at Vétheuil and Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur.
After our visit to Honfleur in 2012, we understood why so many painters used that scenic harbor as a subject.
Manet’s The Ragpicker and a different side of Toulouse-Lautrec’s painting of his favorite model Carmen Gaudin were among the last paintings we saw on this self-guided tour.
… and some dancers by Degas.
I don’t know if the Norton Simon Museum was channeling its inner Monet’s Giverny with its Sculpture Garden …
One of the sculptures in the garden perfectly reproduced the fall I took in Lisbon in 2022.
… and a few other guests.
It’s always an enjoyable time when we stop here. If you are planning a trip to the Pasadena area and deciding how to best spend your time, I would think hard about visiting the wonderful Norton Simon Museum.
Norton Simon Museum
411 West Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105
Sunday, Monday, Thursday 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday/Saturday 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.
$20 Adults • $15 Seniors
Free for students with I.D. and under 18
Free First Friday of every month 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.