Le Musee d'Histoire et d'Art stands in the heart of the old city of Geneva, in its XIXth century monumentality. The museum does play a social role in the life of the Genevois, to a certain extent. The University uses its auditorium for its lectures. I used to climb the hill twice a week for the Art History lectures that were dispensed for the hundreds.
Yet the museum's collection is poor, perhaps a reflection of Geneva's priorities. Geneva has never tried to compete with cultural Basel, or rich Zurich or proud Bern. Geneva has never pretended to be artistic. Its museum collection is overwhelmingly Beaux Arts, an era I could easily describe as the worst in Art History because of its overemphasis on classicism, its restrictive rules and its recourse to plagiarism. Everything was painted "a la maniere"!
Room after room in this large monument are full of huge canvases by obscure XVIII and XIXth century painters that depict Antiquity, legends, some religious art and landscapes. We traversed these rooms briskly.
I took my children on a rainy fall day. It was the first time as I had visited the museum on my own before and always thought a walk in the park in the summer would be more educational than visiting this museum.
But my children were more indulgent than I was. With them, I admired the works of Ferdinand Hodler, smiled at their enthusiasm for a few good pieces by Cezanne, Picasso and Monet. The highlight of my visit was the discovery of the portrait of my favorite Genevois, Jean Jacques Rousseau. This was the portrait I knew from every literature text book.
As we departed, the youngest gave me a sly smile and remarked: "that was a cool museum, it was such a short visit!"