Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts

Where’s the World’s Best Private Museum?

Some of the world’s finest collections can be found at private museums. Where would you say is the world’s best?

Mar 12, 2012
  • Courtyard of the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj Art Gallery in Rome, Italy
  • Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum in Birmingham, Alabama USA
  • Basel, Switzerland's Beyeler Foundation
  • Prasart Museum in Bangkok, Thailand
  • Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany
  • Rubell Family Collection in Miami, Florida USA
Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome, Italy
The Galleria Doria Pamphilj in Rome began in 1647, when Cardinal Camillo Pamphilj abdicated the throne to marry heiress Olimpia Aldobrandini, whose collection of fine art and palazzo on the via del Corso he proceeded to expand. Today visitors will find lush gardens and a grand space holding masterpieces by Titian, Caravaggio and Raphael.
Photography courtesy Doria Pamphilj Art Gallery
Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, Birmingham, Alabama
The spacious and utilitarian Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum is home to the world’s largest collection of motorcycles—nearly 1,300, including street bikes, dirt bikes and rarities, along with vintage and restored vehicles and racing machines from around the world. Founder George Barber may call his museum a “parking garage,” but the complex also has a 2.38-mile, 17-turn track, and it hosts sports-car rallies, a grand prix and the Porsche Driving School.
Photography courtesy Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum
Beyeler Foundation, Basel, Switzerland
The late Ernst Beyeler was known for his keen eye for modern masters, his friendships with artists such as Picasso, Dubuffet and Rothko, and a personal collection of 20th-century modern art that he amassed with his wife Hildy. His collection, housed in a gallery designed by Renzo Piano, includes more than 200 paintings, African, Oceanic and Alaskan sculpture, and works by Picasso, Bacon, Kandinsky, and sculptors Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly.
Photography Serge Hasenböhler
Prasart Museum, Bangkok, Thailand
Real estate magnate Prasart Vongsakul created this serene open-air museum of traditional Southeast Asian and Chinese architecture in a secluded oasis on the outskirts of Bangkok. You’ll need to make an appointment and hire a driver; once there, take a guided tour, then explore tropical foliage, fountains, statuary and artefacts from prehistory to the present. You may even meet the “head gardener,” Mr. Prasart himself. 66 2/379-3601
Photography courtesy Prasart Museum
Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
Founded in 1989 by Rolf Fehlbaum, CEO of the Vitra design company, the Vitra Design Museum was Frank Gehry’s first European commission. Thanks to a partnership with the design company, the museum draws on Vitra’s extensive collection of furniture, lighting and other objects from the early 19th century to today. Throughout the year, exhibitions highlight various themes or contemporary modern designers.
Photography Thomas Dix
Rubell Family Collection, Miami, United States
A 4,180-square-foot former Drug Enforcement Agency warehouse in Miami has since 1993 housed one of the world’s largest private contemporary art collections by the Rubell Family. Owners Mera and Don Rubell started collecting in the 1960s, and now have more than 5,000 works by the likes of Jeff Koons, Cindy Sherman, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Damien Hirst. The Rubells, who helped start Art Basel Miami, like to champion emerging artists and eclect
Photography courtesy Rubell Family Collection

Some of the most fascinating museums in the world were, at their very start, private collections of artwork, relics, natural ephemera or elaborate playthings put on display by their curious and wealthy owners. Hence the private museum was born. Today more and more collectors are putting their treasures on view in grand, spacious and eclectic spaces. Here are some must-see privately owned museums.

You Tell Us

What private museum would you say is the world’s best—and why?

Read more from this issue of Four Seasons Magazine.


11 Comments about Where’s the World’s Best Private Museum?

  1. Gustave Risberg says:

    For sheer quirkiness, ambience and location, you’d be hard-pressed to go past MONA, Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art:
    Set on the shores of the scenic Derwent River, a lift plunges you deep into various levels of a subterranean cave featuring exhibits ranging from the confrontational to controversial. One thing’s for sure – you WILL be surprised. And after you emerge, you can stay on for fine dining at one of the complexes restaurants, catch an open-air concert on the lush green grounds or even stay on at one of the luxury six-star pavilions.

  2. Sherry Dailing says:

    The best museum no one has heard of is in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The Katherine Freeman Clark Museum holds all of the paintings of a very private, very talented artist who refused to part with any of her work. She was an admired contemporary of artists in New York in the early 1900’s, and signed her work “Freeman Clark” to hide her identity, since it wasn’t ladylike to be such an avid painter. The museum is run by her descendants, who guide while telling personal stories of the great lady.

  3. Olaf A Carrera-Quiñonez says:

    For design and collection, my pick is the new Soumaya Museum in Mexico City. Named in honor of his deceased wife, the world’s richest man, Carlos Slim, has a collection befitting his financial number one ranking.
    The spectacular aluminum-clad building houses an enormous and eclectic collection of art spanning centuries and styles, running the gamut from colonial Mexican religious painting, to the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris. Interspersed among the novo-hispano coins are Mexican masters (José Guadalupe Posadas, Tamayo, and Dr. Atl) and pieces by Tintoretto, Henry Moore, and Dalí. And admission is free of charge!

  4. I am the owner of the colection XVI -s will bw interesting to know some of the colectors
    I do have as well Raffaelo!
    If you ask other info wellcome.
    LJ Kovacevic

  5. Lucy Ulrich says:

    I would propose the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, a suburb of the Swiss city of Basel. The collector, Ernst Beyeler, was an art dealer who put together a breathtaking collection of works of art — paintings and sculptures — from the Impressionists onwards.
    Beyeler and his wife set up the foundation more than a decade ago, and asked Renzio Piano to design a museum that is one of the most successful museum buildings I have ever seen. It is set in a delightful garden. The museum restaurant is on the ground floor of a neighboring building, a nineteenth century villa, so that guests can sit outside and enjoy the garden when the weather permits.

  6. Correction: First name is Morten

  7. Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen established by the Carlsberg family over 100 years ago is a must when you are in the dansh capital. You can spend hours there enjoying a huge collection of french impressionists, and romantic danish paintings from the golden age. The etruscan collection is wordclass as is the several statues from ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt. The winter garden with palms and water fountain is a bliss, after having your head turned around by all the artwork.

  8. Jane Allen says:

    I love the Gehry building, but my favourite is the Fondation Baur, a Museum of Fine Arts of the Far East in Geneva. Exquisite porcelain, jade, ceramics, netsukes, painted screens and a formal Japanese garden are displayed to perfection in an elegant town house, former home of collector Frederick Baur. Not open all the time, but if you find yourself in Geneva it is not to be missed.

  9. Stanford Crane says:

    Great choice. The Barber Museum is fantastic unto itself, but the setting reminds me of Agusta National. Many of the motorcycles were shown in the “Art of the Motorcycle” exhibit at the Guggenheim which broke all records. It is one of our national treasures for both design and content.

  10. Imagine my happiness when I clicked on your link and my recommendation was the featured photo. The Galleria Doria Pamphilji is my number one favorite private museum in the world and inspired me to pursue a Masters in Museum Studies while living in Rome via San Francisco. Running a close second for me is the Palazzo Altemps, also in Rome. In either of these, after a day spent coursing the veining streets of Rome, I find myself longing to rest inside these aristocratic residence turned museum spaces. The Doria Pamphilji offering its visitors a good look at how an affluent family can build a magnificent collection through patronage and love while the Palazzo Altemps’ aesthetically simple but beautiful surroundings- its courtyard flocked by the marble forms of the Greeks, grants its visitor a feel for a smaller collection with a large impact.

    These palazzi offer their visitor a look insides domestic spaces coupled with the flair of world renowned masterpieces.

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