Saint Louis Art Museum

Trip Start Jun 23, 2014
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Flag of United States  , Missouri
Thursday, June 26, 2014

Going to the art museum is usually one of the highlights when I visit an American city. Located on a low hill behind a sweeping lawn and reflecting pools in Forest Park, the local version of other big cities Central Park, Golden Gate Park, or Grant Park containing most of the city's main cultural institutions, Saint Louis has one of the better art museums in America. Saint Louis is one of those old Midwestern cities that has collections well beyond what you might expect for city of its size, a result of gifts by wealthy industrialist benefactors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It is similar for places like Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, and Milwaukee, cities we nowadays think of more as models of rust belt industrial decline.

Every museum has a few highlights that make it really stand out. The Saint Louis Art Museum has two for me. First is the world’s largest collection of paintings by German expressionist Max Beckmann, including a huge gallery devoted entirely to his works. Beckmann settled in the Saint Louis area after leaving Nazi Germany when his paintings were declared to be degenerate and removed from public collections.

The second highlight is the large number of paintings by two regional Missouri artists, George Caleb Bingham and Thomas Hart Benton. The Saint Louis Museum has the largest number of Bingham works, Luminist-style paintings of rural Missouri frontier life in the two decades before the American Civil War. Benton was a Missouri-based Regionalist painter who depicted many scenes of depression-era rural America.

The museum has a glassy new modern wing since I visited in 2002 with a posh restaurant and space for the modern art collection and for temporary exhibitions. I lucked out to be in Saint Louis shortly before the "Impressionist France: Visions of a Nation from LeGray to Monet" special exhibition ended. In contrast to the museum’s free admission there was a (worthwhile) charge for a ticket to the special exhibit.
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