This top 10 article was written based on the research and findings of the Art Newsletter in 2011.
1. Louvre Museum (Paris, France)
Total Attendance: 8,800,000 (2011)
The Louvre Museum is one of the largest and also one of the most important museums in the world. It is housed in the expansive Louvre Palace, situated in the 1st arrondissement and is situated at the heart of Paris.
The collection of the Louvre Museum began in the 16th century as a private collection of King Francis I. One of the works of art he purchased was the now famous Mona Lisa painting – still housed at Louvre. The collection slowly grew thanks to donations and purchases made by the kings. In 1793, during the French Revolution, the Louvre turned into a national art museum and the private royal collection was opened to the public.
The museum has a collection of over 1 million works of art, of which about 35 000 are now on display, spread out over three wings of the former palace. The museum has a diverse collection ranging from the Antiquity up to the mid 19th century. Most late 19th century and early 20th century art is housed in Musée d’Orsay.
Some of the most famous works of art in the museum are the Venus of Milo, the Nike of Samothrake, the Dying Slave by Michelangelo and who can forget Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.
The Sully Wing:
The Sully wing is the oldest section in the Louvre. The second floor holds a collection of the most antique French paintings, drawings, and prints. One of the highlights is the erotic Turkish Bath, painted by the late 18th century painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.
2. Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA)
Total Attendance: 6,004,254 (2011)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the largest and finest art museums in the world. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years, from prehistory to the present.
Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum is located in New York City’s Central Park on Fifth Avenue (between 80th to 84th streets).
Unless you are planning to spend your entire New York vacation in the museum (some people do), you cannot see the entire collection in just one visit. My recommendation is to give it a good day—or better yet, 2 half-days so you do not feel burned out. One good way to get an overview is to take advantage of the little-known Museum Highlights Tour, offered every day at various times throughout the day in multiple languages including French, German, Spanish and of course English. Even New Yorkers who’ve spent countless hours in the museum could profit from this once again.
3. British Museum (London, UK)
Total Attendance: 5,848,534 (2011)
The British Museum is a museum in London dedicated entirely to human history and culture. Its permanent collection, over eight million works, is among the largest and most comprehensive and originates from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its pre-historic times to the present.
It was first established in 1753 and is largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The museum first opened to the public on 15 January 1759 in Montagu House in Bloomsbury, on the site of the current museum building. Its expansion over the following two and a half centuries was largely a result of an expanding British colonial footprint and has resulted in the creation of several branches, the first being the British Museum (Natural History) in South Kensington in 1887.
The British Museum houses a number of objects in its collection, most notably the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, are the objects of intense controversy and of calls for restitution to their countries of origin.
4. National Gallery (London, UK)
Total Attendance: 5,253,216 (2011)
The National Gallery is an art museum located on Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1824, it now houses a collection of over 2,300 paintings dating from the mid-13th century to 1900.
Unlike other museums in Europe, the National Gallery was not formed by nationalizing an existing royal or princely art collection. It came into existence when the British government bought 38 paintings from the heirs of John Julius Angerstein -an insurance broker and lover of the arts in 1824.
The current building, the third to house the National Gallery, was designed by William Wilkins between 1832–8. Only the façade facing Trafalgar Square remains unchanged from this time, as the building has undergone expanded piecemeal throughout its history.
5. Tate Modern (London, UK)
Total Attendance: 4,802,287 (2011)
Tate Modern is a family of 4 art galleries in London which houses UK’s largest collection of modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present day and hosting special exhibitions and events. It also holds the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day.