The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California is a representation of the lifestyles of the rich and famous residents of the area. One such inhabitant, a man by the name of Norton Simon, had a love for art rivaled by very few. Lucky for him, his back account was large enough to financially support his hobbies.
About Norton Simon
Born in 1907, Norton Simon was an intelligent and determined individual. He graduated from high school at the early age of 16 and went on to become a well established business person, eventually opening his own company specializing in sheet metal distribution.
Simon’s proclivity to spot a deal was astounding. At the beginning of the Great Depression he made the decision to invest $7,000 into a struggling bottling company – at the time a huge sum of money. Over time, that struggling company became the Hunt Foods Corporation.
It wasn’t until later in life that Simon became interested in art. He eventually formed a rather prestigious collection of work comprised of not only modern art but old masters and impressionists as well. Years later he began adding Southeast Asian and Indian art to his collection as well. He had, by the mid-1960′s, formed two foundations that regularly acquired and displayed his prized collections.
Simon’s collection grew until it could no longer fit in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the first museum to be honored to display his holdings. He decided to split his collection into pieces and lend it to various museums around the globe. It wasn’t until 1974 that he began searching for a place his collection could call home, and eventually took control of the Pasadena Museum of Modern Art. As his loans to other museums ended, the Norton Simon Museum grew. He oversaw the project until his death in 1993.
The Norton Simon Museum is now home to hundreds of spectacular works of art. Visitors can browse the halls of the museum or stop to view the 30-minute documentary depicting the life of Norton Simon himself. Some of the notable pieces in his collection are listed here.
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin
Rodin’s statue, The Thinker, is housed in the museum’s sculpture garden. Rodin spent years attempting to capture both the mental and physical aspects of his subject. Every muscle and limb on this incredible statue screams with tension and passion.
The original statue appeared in the Paris Salon in 1904. The French government wanted the statue installed in the center of Paris, but Rodin wanted to share his work with others. This statue is one of 20 duplicates he created so that they could be spread throughout the world.
Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Jeanne Hebuterne by Amadeo Modigliani
Jeanne Hebuterne was an art student in Paris when she met Modigliani, 13 years her senior. Their love was strong but their relationship was tumultuous, a fact that was clear through the 20+ portraits he painted portraying his wife.
During her pregnancy he began lashing out at Jeanne in all manners. Only a few years later, Jeanne found herself pregnant again but this time alone. Modigliani died of meningitis at the age of 35 and his distraught young wife later threw herself out of a fifth-story window.
Portrait of a Boy by Rembrandt van Rijn
It’s hard to believe that so few people in the United States had even heard of this portrait before it was purchased by Simon. The famous auction house, Christie’s, put the painting up for sale in 1965. The piece was in high demand because it was believed to be an image of Rembrandt’s son, Titus, at the early age of six.
Simon was determined to win this piece at auction and paid over $2.2 million for it – the highest amount paid for a single painting in European history. The purchase was so famous it landed Simon and the portrait on the cover of “Time” magazine.
Portrait of Theresa, Countess Kinsky by Marie-Louise-Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun
The Countess in this painting knew that the way to recover from embarrassment years ago was to make sure she looked spectacular as often as possible. When her marriage to Count Kinsky, arranged by her parents, went bad she turned to Vigee-Lebrun to paint her portrait.
The portrait was stunning, but did little to help the young bride win back her husband. Vigee-Lebrun, however, was one of the best known artists alive in the late 1700′s and her ability to capture legitimate emotions is showcased in this image.
L.H.O.O.Q by Marcel Duchamp
The Marcel Duchamp piece known as L.H.O.O.Q is one of the most spectacular pieces in the Norton Simon museum and is one no visitor should miss. Duchamp created his own rendition of the “Mona Lisa” but added a few additional features, including a beard and a mustache.
Why did he do this? Duchamp belonged to the Dada movement and took every opportunity to make fun of Western art. The piece was, in reality, a joke but he hoped that his changes would encourage people to change the way they viewed art in general.
Norton Simon spent years building an art collection rivaled by few others. Take the time to browse through the halls of his museum and you’ll understand exactly what makes this museum so special.