Art Museum Review Essay

The Norton Simon Museum is a grand and distinctive museum with a wide array of artworks. The artworks are arranged in categories based on their medium, time of creation, and themes. The exhibits are located in a contemporary mid-century building that contrasts with the aged and prominent artworks. The museum has a collection of European, Asian, and Contemporary art, including paintings, sculptures, woodblock prints, and tapestries. The museum incorporates the private collection of Norton Simon who had amassed a great number of European, Southeast Asian, and Indian artworks, which is why it is a great place for the real art connoisseurs.

The museum is located in an urban setting at 411 West Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena, California. The building of the museum clearly contrasts with the surrounding gardens. The museum is located near The Ventura Freeway, which is the main east-west route through Ventura County to the north. The highway and the adjoining streets allow the museum to be a central tourist destination for many travelling visitors. A Wells Fargo bank is located on the other side of Colorado Boulevard. When visiting the museum, the visitors can also stop near the B.P.O.E building with a unique façade of red and black brick. Even though the building’s urban location might be off-putting or intimidating for potential visitors, the museum collection should motivate the visitors to attend the exhibition to learn more about the unique collection of Norton Simon. The museum and the city are both quite adept at promoting the artworks located at the museum (“Norton Simon Museum”). There was a time the museum grounds were floundering. However, there has since been a revival (“Simon Says”). The museum itself is very much different than the rest of the area.

The museum structure easily stands out from the rest of the nearby structures. However, the building does not overpower the surrounding structures, which is why the location has a balanced flair. The museum is both elegant and refined compared to the somewhat monotonous surrounding buildings. A concrete wall also surrounds the edge of the museum’s grounds. It separates the museum from the sidewalk near the street. The wall is just a separator since it is low and does not block the view of the museum’s building. The profile of the museum clearly rises above the bushes and the wall that separate the grounds from the outside world.

The layout of the museum is fairly simple. The outside is actually much richer in color than the inside. The outside has several sculptures and beautiful trees. The ponds and streams are scattered throughout the complex. The inside of the museum has a muted style. The museum’s space is open and easy to navigate by foot. Potted plants and bushes are located in throughout the location. The floors, walls, and ceilings are painted in muted earth tones, which is why all the focus in the museum is on the exhibits. Beige and taupe are the most common colors in the museum. The paintings, however, have rich and contrasting colors. The artworks are reasonably positioned throughout the museum. For example, most art pieces are located about two feet apart. The information placard is located to the right of each painting. The layout of the paintings and sculptures is fairly consistent throughout the museum.

When it comes to the third question, the 19th century artwork room is emblematic of what is described above. The earth tone colors noted before are consistent in this room. The walls are a dark gray with a hint of blue. The floor is pine-colored wood. The ceiling is light and decorated with different lighting fixtures. The benches are collated to one side of the main room and the entrance is wide and well positioned. Many paintings have the same general color scheme. It is obvious that they are paintings, as opposed to photographs. However, the color choices are consistent with what a person would have seen or what a color photograph would look like if they were an option in those days. These artworks are clearly present as a group for two reasons. First, they are from the same time and art history periods. Second, they all have the same level and form of color, settings and style. The way the other patrons view and react to the art is very interesting.

When it comes to the fourth question, people often see different pieces of art from different perspectives. They can get rather close or they can stand at a distance. Some of the art pieces can be viewed while sitting on a bench. There is plenty of room for more than one person to see the same art. People are able to go from one area to the other with little restriction. In viewing the people that were there, it is clear that they were calm, taking their time and able to enjoy themselves at their own pace. There was no one rushing them along or forcing them to spend the exact amount of time in front of each painting. Due to the size and scope of the museum, most areas had only a few people at the same time. There are individual examples of art that caught the author’s eye.

The museum also included a wide array of paintings. Canoe on the Yerres River by Gustave Caillebotte is one of the most interesting yet simple paintings in the museum that depicts a person rowing in a boat along a serene lake. The artist skillfully depicts the effects of the rippling water and uses light to create a tranquil atmosphere of the painting. The Seine at Charenton depicts carefree people walking along the Seine River in France. The scene shows people’s contentment with the surroundings and reflects the tranquility of a scenic stroll. However, the only thing that disturbs the scenic landscape is dirty emission from the nearby factory. The Entrance to the Port of la Havre by Claude Monet shows several ships on the choppy waters (“Home Norton Simon”). Most of the boats are sailing ships; however, the painting also depicts a couple of rowboats, whoing that the port is used not only for commercial purposes.

Gustave Caillebotte’s painting The Yellow Boat is similar to his first work while it has the same style and setting. However, the boat now floats in the open waters and the person is positioned backwards. Berthe Morisot’s painting also has a water-related setting. In a Villa at the Seaside depicts a landscape that overlooks the nearby coast and a woman with a child who are sitting at the porch. They are enjoying the coastline view in a formal setting, which is why the painting also shows the bourgeois position of the middle class and the privileges of the artist’s family. Low Tide, Berck is another seaside painting that depicts the unique landscape of the beaches of Normandy and the surreal effect of light in the evening. The painting includes a number of people meandering at the edge of the ocean. Mouth of the Seine at Honfleur by Claude Monet is very similar to the painting La Havre. The orientation of the picture is different. However, it still depicts the fishing boats that are departing into the ocean. Cloudy skies show the severity and unpredictability of the nature and its ability to change in a fleeting moment. Marine by Gustave Courbet is similar to Louis-Eugène Boudin’s work Low Tide, Berck. The Normandy coast experiences a low tide, but the heaviness and the lack of clear emotions shows the raw nature of the landscape. Cliff at Etretat, the Porte d’Aval, another Courbet’s work, is sharper, more profound, and realistic in nature. The painting depicts a coast with a cliff, creating a semi-circle along the left edge of the profile. The final painting, The Pont des Arts, Paris by Pierre-Auguste Renoir also has sharp edges and shapes, which are both strictly defined and realistic in nature.

When it comes to the sixth and seventh questions, the two similar Caillebotte works easily come to mind. A lone person in a boat is the basis for both artworks. However, the works are also different in several ways. For example, color is the main point of focus in both works. In The Yellow Boat, the boat itself is yellow, which is why it immediately attracts the viewers’ attention. Canoe on the Yerres River also uses yellow as an accent color, even though it is less noticeable. The tips of the oars and the hat the boat rider wears are yellow, but the objects do not detract attention from the painting itself. As noted before, the painting The Yellow Boat work uses a perpendicular perspective. Canoe on the Yerres River, on the other hand, focuses on a parallel perspective and the front of the boat. Another distinction includes the characters at both paintings. The man’s face in Canoe on the Yerres River is hidden, whereas the character’s face in The Yellow Boat is clearly visible. The paint itself and the level of clarity are the same. The use of reflections and shimmering on the water is also very similar. They both show the people who love to boat and are content in the moment.

In conclusion, the Norton Simon Museum has numerous fascinating pieces of art, but Low Tide, Berck and The Seine at Charenton are the paintings that stood out the most in the museum. The two paintings depict a clear and serene scene. However, they do it in unique and realistic ways. The Seine at Charenton depicts people enjoying the coast. However, the filthy factory is clearly not hidden or obfuscated. Low Tide, Berck clearly depicts an evening setting without any aggressive or artificial light, which allows the painting to remain still and contrived. It is easy for an artist to make the painting either completely negative or completely positive (“Home Norton Simon”).. However, combining the “good” and “bad” in a unique way makes the paintings more realistic and structured. Too often, art focuses on the extremes. The author wants to see what life was really like for the artists and the other people who lived during that time.

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Works Cited
"Home: Norton Simon Museum.", 2018,
"Norton Simon Museum—Visit Pasadena." Visit Pasadena, 2018,
"Simon Says: How Norton Simon Transformed a Failing Art Museum into a Cultural
Powerhouse. Pasadena Museum of History." Pasadena Museum of History, 2018,