A Day At The Museum
Expecting another blistering hot Pasadena afternoon, Tracy and I made up our mind early to hit a museum located in our own home town. It had been a couple of years since our last visit to the Norton Simon Museum, and since we had never tried their audio guide, we felt this could be a great way to beat the heat and acquire a bit more knowledge about our home grown tourist attraction. Formerly known as the Pasadena Art Institute (founded in 1922) and then the Pasadena Art Museum (1954), in the 1970s the museum reached out to industrialist Norton Simon, who had become one of the largest art collectors in the world during the 1960s. Simon was looking for a permanent location for his gigantic collection of more than 4,000 objects.
From the Norton Simon Museum website: “On June 24, 1974, the museum closed for renovation. After combining the Pasadena Art Museum and Norton Simon collections, it reopened on March 1, 1975. In October of that year, the name of the institution changed to the Norton Simon Museum of Art at Pasadena. Norton Simon died on June 2, 1993. As a tribute to her husband, actress Jennifer Jones Simon oversaw the major renovation of the interior galleries from 1996-1999 by the noted architect Frank O. Gehry.”
Today, more than 12,000 objects are on view in the Norton Simon Museum’s galleries and sculpture gardens throughout the year. After parking, we were greeted by Auguste Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.
We bought our tickets, picked up the audio guide (Tom Brokaw gives the introduction to the audio tour), and it was now time to explore the museum. In the first room we came upon a couple of works from Vincent Van Gogh, Portrait Of A Peasant and The Mulberry Tree. We arrived at the museum right as it opened at noon, so that way I wouldn’t be taking photos in front of disgruntled patrons (those art aficionados can get rather testy at times).
Stepping into the next room, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had a couple of paintings that stood out…At Renoir’s Home, rue St-Georges and The Pont des Arts, Paris. The former was Renoir’s “only studio group portrait,” and “the bald, bearded man partially hidden to the right is painter Camille Pissarro.”
Walking into a side room, I saw a painting that had captivated me on my last visit here, Georges Lacombe’s Autumn: The Chestnut Gatherers. The colors seem to pop off the wall.
After looking at some more Monet’s, Manet’s and other masters whose names do not begin with “M”, we headed back across the museum to look at some of the modern art, most of which, frankly, we can’t stand. There was one Picasso painting, however, that I actually tolerated. Woman With A Book stood out among the rest of the modern paintings, and it didn’t give me a headache.
The rest of the modern art portion of the museum had masterpieces like the one below that looked like somebody just threw some paint on the wall. Or perhaps we don’t have an art history background to fully appreciate this stuff.
We walked back through the museum entry room to the other side of the museum where (thankfully) order was restored with some more beautiful paintings. One by Guido Remi from the early 1600s stood out. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of musicians. From the info next to the picture: “According to legend, she could play any musical instrument and was so exalted she could hear the singing of angels. Here, with her eyes turned toward heaven, she plays a violin; in the background is an organ.” This was one of our favorite paintings on display.
We entered a room that had beautiful, dark blue walls. The first piece that stood out was an incredible altarpiece.
It was just one masterpiece after another as we traversed the different rooms. I especially liked Marriage At Cana (below right), a 1676 painting by Jan Steen. “The story of Christ’s first public miracle, performed at a wedding feast in the village of Cana, appears in the second chapter of John. Finding that the wine has been exhausted, Jesus transforms six stone jars filled with water into the finest wine. Jan Steen, who painted the subject six times, never depicted the miracle directly. Instead, he incorporated the event into the larger tableau of the wedding party. Jesus’ presence is hardly noticeable as he performs the miracle quietly in the middle ground.”
There were a still more paintings before we headed downstairs to the land of statues. We loved Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky, a 1793 painting by Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun and Saint Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens.
One more painting caught our eye, and then it was sculpture and statue time.
This garden was unveiled in 1999 and was “inspired” by Monet’s Garden in Giverny, which, of course, means there are water lilies.
it was peaceful as we strolled around the pond.
We spent about two hours, but you could make an entire afternoon out of a visit. If you don’t want to purchase the audio guide (the descriptions can go on seemingly forever), the description cards with each painting are very informational. There is also a 30-minute movie narrated by Gregory Peck that tells more about Norton Simon and the museum’s collection.
This was our third foray to the Norton Simon Museum, and I’m sure we will be bringing out-of-town friends here some time in the future. It’s kind of cool to have a first class museum right in our own backyard.
Norton Simon Museum
411 W Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91105
Hours: Noon to 6:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. Fridays) • Closed Tuesday
Cost: Adults: $10 • Seniors (over 62): $7 • Under 18: Free
Audio Guide: $3
Admission is free for all visitors the first Friday of every month from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m. Unless otherwise stated, events are free with admission and no reservations are required.