Charles Lang Freer, a late-19th-century manufacturing baron and enthusiast of art’s Aesthetic Movement, amassed more than 1,000 works by American painter James McNeill Whistler during his lifetime. His collection ultimately became the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. (the first art museum on the Smithsonian campus when it opened in 1923), and illustrates the power of an intimately sized gallery.
The Freer is as worthy of a visit as larger museums like the Louvre in Paris and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. So are tightly curated, relatively diminutive collections like it, which often feature idyllic locations and a quiet feel.
The Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands, for example, holds nearly 100 paintings by Vincent van Gogh, among others—all the property of Helen Kröller-Müller, who had a passion for abstract expressionism in the early 20th century.
Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is a tucked-away find with an eclectic assemblage, and the Galleria Borghese in Rome is renowned for its sculptures by Bernini.
Whether they showcase the standard-bearers of a particular movement or a dedication to a small number of exemplary works, these ten petite museums make up for in focus what they lack in size.