The E.U.’s architecture of international relations may be taking a beating, but one international organization at least is still building cultural ties in Europe. The Artist’s Studio Museum Network links the cottages, castles, and farmhouses that artists once used as homes and studios. The buildings now serve as museums of the artists’ domestic lives and work routines; where Monet tended his waterlilies, where Rosa Bonheur could wear work pants without a government permit, and where Beatrix Potter fed lettuce to the furry inspirations for Peter Rabbit. From Croatia to the Canary Islands, the goal of artist house museums isn’t just a history lesson—it’s a 360-degree understanding of the lifestyle and context of an artist’s work.
While some studio museums are front and center in bustling metropolises like Paris, many are tucked in far corners of the globe. When the founding Network museum, the Watts Gallery Artists’ Village, put out a call for the Network, they weren’t surprised when house museums came out of the woodwork. “Many artists seek seclusion in which to work,” says Kirsten Tambling who administers the Network. “Many of the studio museums we found are set in picturesque and inspiring, though remote, locations.”
The curators share a passion for keeping alive the soul of the artist whose home they steward, from preserving tubs of oil paints, to polishing the silverware, to asking visitors to be respectful in the crypt. “There's a strong tradition in many studio museums of artists both building and then being buried in the estates,” says Tambling.
We selected ten of our favorite studio museums for your next road trip through Europe – with a few
suggestions for additions to the Artist’s Studio Museum
Built as a summer villa for Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrovic and his family, this museum perches like a Greek temple over the sparkling Adriatic. Visitors on art pilgrimage can rent bicycles in Split and peddle the cliff trail, stopping at pebble beaches along the way. Once there, you can wander the sculpture lawns and pass through the galleries, contemplating Meštrovic’s larger than life figures, which range from serene goddesses to the tormented figure of Job asking his eternal question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Meštrovic was imprisoned during WWII for refusing to exhibit for the Nazi regime. Much of his life was spent in expatriation to Paris, Rome, Yugoslavia, and the United States. His sculptures, most notably his emaciated Pietà in Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, dot the global map and once you become a Meštrovic expert at this gallery, you’ll notice them everywhere.
Šetalište Ivana Meštrovica 46, Split, Croatia
The Galerija Meštrovic overlooks the sparkling Adriatic. Image courtesy of Zoran Alajbeg © Muzeji Ivana Meštrovića.
The Hortamuseum isn’t just for fans of the Baron Victor Horta’s architecture. It’s a hub for lovers of the organic whimsy of the art nouveau style. From the doorbell to the dishware, the aesthetics of art nouveau invade the home of the Belgium architect. Horta’s self-designed house presents the leaps and bounds in functional capacity that the Industrial Revolution meant for iron and glasswork. There are few straight lines at the Hortamuseum. Botanical figures blossom from every corner and grow into load-bearing architecture. Voluptuous windows suffuse light. Wall-paintings and mosaic are in petal-like interplay. Parade up and down the stairs and into the tiled dining room, which can be rented for private dinner parties.
25, rue Américaine, Saint-Gilles, Brussels, Belgium
Château de By, studio of Rosa Bonheur
It shouldn’t take the full American Indian regalia presented by her friend Buffalo Bill Cody and the walls of taxidermy animal heads displayed at the Rosa Bonheur studio to tell you that this painter was a badass. Bonheur is famous for her action-packed landscapes populated with powerful animals. To learn to paint her subjects, she frequented farms, horse markets, and slaughterhouses, inspiring generations of women artists with her devil-may-care attitude and her internationally-renowned career. When Bonheur moved from painting horses to lions, she ordered several of the large cats for her castle estate at Fontainebleau. There are no lions at Fontainebleau now, but a tour of Bonheur’s former studio is a dose in the robust energy of a woman who took a close-minded society by the scruff of the neck and shook it until it awarded her all the top honors the 19th century had. It’s a little off the beaten track to make the forty-minute trip from Paris. But hey! If Bonheur could go off the beaten track, so can you.
Chateau de Rosa Bonheur, 12 rue Rosa Bonheur, Thomery-By, Fontainebleau, France
Taxidermy animal heads and antlers are displayed alongside paintings at the Rosa Bonheur studio.
William Morris fans sometimes make strange bedfellows – they include design and decorative arts aficionados, wallpaper lovers, architecture buffs, socialists, Medievalists, and art historians. If Morris was a midwife to the birth of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Red House is the birthplace. Morris’s home was a nerve center for a fellowship of Pre-Raphaelite thinkers, writers, and painters whom Morris hosted in his Gothic Revival dining room. The house manifests Morris’s conception that modern manufacturing had corrupted the decorative object and that home décor should be made by guild-style artisans and handcraftsmen. In addition to Arthurian inspired tapestries and Gothic stained glass, you can see the origins of Morris’s design company: Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., a furnishing and decorative arts manufacturer founded on the principles Morris’s circle and developed at Red House. While the company disbanded in the early months of World War II, Morris’s focus on the handcrafted and the artisan has certainly seen a resurgence in the early 20th century.
Red House Lane, Bexleyheath, London, United Kingdom
This museum in Monet’s country home in Giverny is for all those who ever wanted to live in a painting. The house, with its floor to ceiling windows thrown open to the flower gardens, makes you realize that Monet’s passion was the outdoors. En plein air, or outdoor painting, may be a staple of the vacation watercolor workshop now, but back in the day, Monet’s move to turn the garden into his studio was revolutionary. Don’t leave without strolling through the gardens, where you can see the Giverny waterlilies that Monet made famous around the world.
84 rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, France
The Monet Museum's kitchen windows open onto the vegetable and water gardens. Image courtesy of Fondation Claude Monet-Giverny/Droits réservés.
Hill Top is a charming country cottage where Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated more books in the vein of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Her affection for farm life as a retreat from London suffuses the whole property, from the parlor, to the bedrooms, to the vegetable garden. From dust pans to dolls houses, the building is stuffed with the accoutrement of Potter and her stories. The staff frequently rearranges the furniture–as Potter often did when she magpie-like added new trinkets and trophies to her décor. The staff is knowledgeable, but the only guide you need is The Tale of Samuel Whiskers; many of the scenes are recognizably set in the different rooms of Hill Top. When you’re through, hop next door to the Tower Bank Arms for a drink before the fire. The pub was around in Potter’s day, and it makes a cameo in The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck.
Near Sawrey, Ambleside, Cumbria, United Kingdom
If your dream house is a log cabin by a lake, the museum dedicated to Finnish painter Pekka Halonen might be the place for you. Halonen built the timber villa with his brother, allowing him to self-design the two-story studio he had seen while studying in Paris. From here, alongside his eight children, Halonen painted many works that contributed to the Golden Age of Finnish painting. Visitors can stroll down to the lake to watch the ice-skaters or tramp through the forest that inspired Halonen’s works. Halosenniemi Museum is a quick twenty-minute car ride from the airport – perfect if you have a layover in Helsinki and a few hours to kill.
Halosenniementie 4-6, Tuusula, Finland
Halonen designed the two-story studio after ones he'd seen in Paris. Image courtesy of Museokuva / Tuusula Art Museum.
Until 2016, it was a cruel irony that, to see some of the best work by a sculptor whose artistic legacy
has been overshadowed by her relationship to Auguste Rodin, one had to visit a museum with his name on it. But
recently, a museum dedicated to Camille Claudel opened in her former childhood home. Claudel never gained prominence
in her own time. Many of her onyx and bronze sculptures were considered too erotic by her contemporaries. Claudel
herself destroyed much of her own work out of paranoia that her ideas would be stolen. Sadly, the decades it took for
Claudel’s star to rise from obscurity means that the interior of the house museum in Nogent-sur-Seine was not
preserved. However, the exterior has been restored and the interior is the best collection of Claudel work in the
10 Rue Gustave Flaubert, Nogent-sur-Seine, France
The Kenyan poet Khadambi Asalache bought this Georgian townhouse in 1981 and almost immediately began decorating every inch with hand-cut salvaged pine. Several homes on this list might be called a ‘gesamtkunstwerk’—a total artwork—but 575 Wandsworth Road beats everyone in square inches of handmade décor. Some art critics also use the home as an example of ‘horror vacui’ or the fear of empty spaces. Figurines and geometric forms dance along the walls, lintels and mantles. Perhaps not surprising, given his love of latticework, Asalache’s life partner was basketmaker Susie Thomson. The museum has recently launched a composer in residence program, which will interpret the house carvings into music.
575 Wandsworth Road, Lambeth, London, United Kingdom
Image courtesy of Susie Thomson. Photo: David Clarke
Emily Ludolph is a director at West Wing Writers. She has published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Artsy, Airmail, Eye on Design, JSTOR Daily, Quartz, Narratively, TED Online and Design Observer.