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Over one hundred small museums to discover

Posted 17th August 2017
Watts Contemporary Gallery

by Kirsten Tambling,
Artist's Studio Museum Network Administrator

Unsure where to go on your holidays? Watts Gallery - Artists' Village are at the forefront of a network showcasing European museums based in artists' former homes and studios.

The Artist's Studio Museum Network aims to raise the profile of artist's studio museums and their collections. Established in early 2016, it is funded by the Tavalozza Foundation and the Heritage Lottery Fund. There are currently over 100 museums in the network representing twenty European countries, and it is an invaluable tool for anyone seeking to discover cultural destinations off the beaten track.

Participating museums range from Leighton House Museum (pictured right), home of the great Victorian painter in London's South Kensington, Millesgården (pictured right) on the Stockholm island of Lidingö and Rembrandthuis (pictured right) in the bustling city-centre of Amsterdam. Many are set in inspirational landscapes: the Rudolph Tegner Museum, Dronningmølle (pictured above), is at the centre of sixteen hectares of undulating pink heathland, dotted with Tegner's powerful, Michelangelo-inspired sculptures. The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden in St Ives is still flooded with the Cornish light that prompted Hepworth to declare she had found 'magic' there.

Other studio museums reflect their owner's need to be at the beating heart of the city. In Paris, the Musée de la Vie Romantique bears witness to the fashionable past of 'Nouvelle Athens', while the Musée Zadkine (pictured right) in Montparnasse reflects the artistic move south due to rising rents later in the nineteenth century. Frequently, the house itself is a work of art, with splendidly preserved historic interiors and studios displayed as though their owners have just stepped out for a walk.

Though they are often, by nature, small and out of the way, artist's studio museums have uniquely personal archives and collections that offer new perspectives on art and art movements. The Musée de la Vie Romantique and the Kügelgenhaus, Dresden, bear witness to the salon culture and artistic communities that shaped painters such as Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), but also nourished relationships between composers and writers such as George Sand (1805-1876) and Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Meanwhile, Dorich House, Kingston, UK, and Tromp's Huys, The Netherlands, offer insights into the reality of women artists' creative lives: in these cases, the Russian émigré painter and sculptor Dora Gordine (1895-1991) and the marine painter Betsy Akersloot Berg (1850-1922).

These houses vary wildly in appearance: the Spanish painter, sculptor and passionate conservationist César Manrique (1919-1992) built his Lanzarote home on top of petrified lava (pictured right). Painter and printmaker Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) lived and worked on an active Norwegian farm, Astruptunet. Public 'great men' such as the sculptor Vicenzo Vela (1820-1891), painter and polymath Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and German Academic painter Franz von Lenbach (1836-1904) constructed Renaissance-inspired palazzos to celebrate and promote their art collections alongside their artistic practice, now the Museo Vincenzo Vela, Rubenshuis and Lenbachhaus.

They vary, too, in date: the oldest studio museums in the network date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries – the Casa Natale di Raphael, Urbino, and Dürer House, Nuremberg (pictured right). These museums, like most of the museums in the network, were formalised as museums by the committees and councils of the heritage-conscious nineteenth century. But the network also includes the Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar, Lisbon, whose associated artist is still living and working in the space.

The Artist's Studio Museum Network aims to promote and link these museums, in all their variety, and to find points of commonality and ways they can support each other. As the network continues to grow, Watts Gallery – Artists' Village aims to develop offline projects and events to encourage research and information sharing around the history of the artist's studio.

Visit the Artist's Studio Museum Network website and follow them on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.