A pink taxi

A pink taxi

November 7, 2011

A White Elephant of a Museum

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!"


  1. I know with kids that the smaller the museum, the more they learn. Sometimes those amazing museums like The Louvre or The Met, are so vast, the art can become lost to them....
    I had this same experience when we visited the Muset Monet in Paris, set in the 16e arr. It was a tiny museum, but with an impressive collection, especially his water lillies. I know the kids enjoyed it, and then we rushed out to the Ranelagh Park, where they had an even better time.....
    Sometimes, less is more....

  2. I have always wondered what that Geneva museum had,because I passed it many times,since facing it stands the Henry Moore sculpture that I love.From the description of the blogger,I'm glad that I did not venture in.I always commented that the building needs a cleanup,since it's statues have been blackened by pollution.I wonder why the Swiss have not donated some of their art collection to this huge monument .
    By the way,I loved looking at my Moore from the glass door of the Museum.

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