Norton Simon Museum

Norton Simon Museum

Coordinates: 34°08′46″N 118°09′33″W / 34.146203°N 118.159097°W / 34.146203; -118.159097

Norton Simon Museum
Established 1969
Location Pasadena, California
Type Art Museum
Website Official Website

The Norton Simon Museum is an Art Museum located in Pasadena, California, United States. It was previously known by the names: the Pasadena Art Institute and the Pasadena Art Museum.



The Norton Simon collections include: European paintings, sculptures, and tapestries; Asian sculptures, paintings, and woodblock prints; and Sculpture gardens displaying many sculptors' work in a landscape setting around a large pond. The Museum contains the Norton Simon Theater which shows film programs daily, and hosts; lectures, symposia, and dance and musical performances the year-round. The museum is located along the route of the Tournament of Roses's Rose Parade, where its distinctive, brown tile-exterior can be seen in the background on television.


The museum entrance hall

In 1954, the Pasadena Art Institute changed its name to the Pasadena Art Museum and occupied the “The Grace Nicholson Treasure House of Oriental Art” building (now the Pacific Asia Museum) on North Los Robles Avenue until 1970.[1]

A new Pasadena Art Museum building was completed in 1969, designed by Pasadena architects Thornton Ladd and John Kelsey of the firm 'Ladd + Kelsey'. The distinctive and modern curvilinear exterior facade is faced in 115,000 glazed tiles, in varying rich brown tones with an undulating surface, made by renowned ceramic artisan Edith Heath.[2] The Museum filled a void being the only modern art museum between San Francisco and La Jolla in California at the time. It was renowned for progressive art exhibits. In the early 1970s, due to an ambitious schedule of exhibits and a new building project, the museum began to experience serious financial hardships.

Starting in mid-1960s, industrialist Norton Simon rose to become one of the pre-eminent art collectors in the world; by the 1970s he was searching for a permanent location for his growing collection of over 4,000 objects. In 1974, the museum and Simon came to an agreement: Simon absorbed the Pasadena Art Museum's debts and became responsible for the collection and building projects; in return the museum was renamed to Norton Simon Museum. This move has been widely criticized by the local community and the closing of the only contemporary art museum between San Francisco and La Jolla, led indirectly to the founding of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 1979.

In 1995, the Museum began a major renovation with the architect Frank Gehry. The redesign resulted in more intimate galleries, improved lighting, increased rotating exhibition space, an entire floor devoted to Asian art, and restored access to the gardens. The gardens were redesigned by Power and Associates to house the 20th century sculpture collection in an engaging setting. The new Norton Simon Theater was the final element of the renovation, designed by Gensler & Associates, and is used for lectures, film, dance performances and concerts. [3]


The Norton Simon Museum contains a significant permanent collection which is highly regarded internationally. The Museum also mounts temporary exhibitions that focus on a particular artist, an art movement or artistic period, or art that was created in a specific region or country.

Asian art

The Museum has a world-renowned collection of art from South Asia and Southeast Asia, with examples of this region’s sculptural and painting traditions. On display are holdings from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia and Thailand, as well as selected works from Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and Japan. The collection is particularly rich in art from the Indian subcontinent, including monumental stone sculpture from the Kushana and Gupta periods, and a remarkable group of [[Chola bronzes from southern India. Selections of the Museum’s Rajput paintings from India, and thangkas, or Buddhist religious paintings, from Tibet and Nepal are well represented. The impressive collection of Japanese woodblock prints has a majority which were formerly in the collection of Frank Lloyd Wright.

European art: 14th-16th centuries

Masterworks of the Early Renaissance, the High Renaissance and Mannerism make up the Museum’s extensive collection of 14th- to 16th-century European art. Exquisite works by Paolo Veneziano and Giovanni di Paolo, and an exceptional Guariento di Arpo altarpiece, anchor the Museum’s collection of gold-ground panel paintings. Jacopo Bassano, Botticelli, Filippino Lippi and Raphael are represented by rich oil paintings of religious scenes. Also represented are magnificent examples of such Northern European masters as Lucas Cranach the Elder, Dieric Bouts and Hans Memling. The portraits of Giorgione, Giovanni Bellini and El Greco reflect the great diversity of subject matter in the collection. Ownership of Cranach's "Adam" [4] and "Eve" [5] is disputed due to their history as Nazi loot. [6] [7]

European art: 17th-18th centuries

The Museum’s early Baroque paintings from Italy and Spain are represented by such noted artists as Guido Reni, Guercino, Murillo and Zurbarán. The Northern Baroque collection is profoundly expressed in the works of Peter Paul Rubens. The remarkable group of 17th-century Dutch genre, portrait and landscape paintings is crowned with three portraits by Rembrandt. Capping off the 17th century are Flemish and German still lifes, and religious landscapes by the French masters Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. The French component of the 18th century collection contains paintings by Watteau, Fragonard and Boucher, while Italy is represented with capriccios and historic glimpses into the daily life of Rome and Venice with works by Longhi, Pannini, Guardi, Canaletto, and Tiepolo.

European art: 19th century

The Museum's paintings by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Francisco de Goya mark the beginning of the 19th century and lead to superb examples of mid-century Realism executed by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet and Édouard Manet. The Museum has the most significant collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art in Southern California. Works by Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, who alone is represented by over one hundred works of art, are displayed alongside the vibrant palettes of Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. Complementing these works are Auguste Rodin’s monumental bronze sculptures, displayed in the Museum’s front garden. Outstanding paintings by Édouard Vuillard and Pierre Bonnard lead to the doorstep of 20th-century Modernism.

Modern art

The Museum has an extensive collection of Modern art, with seminal works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and Diego Rivera on permanent view. The "Galka Scheyer collection of works by the Blue Four artists" boasts paintings and works on paper by Paul Klee, Lyonel Feininger, Alexei Jawlensky, and Vasily Kandinsky.

Contemporary art

The collection of Post-War Contemporary Art, from the Norton Simon Museum's acquisition of the Pasadena Art Museum's building and collections, is noteworthy for its strength in collage, assemblage and sculpture, including works by Joseph Cornell, Robert Rauschenberg, Louise Nevelson, George Herms, and Ed Kienholz. Pop Art, and Minimal Art are represented by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, and Robert Irwin. Californian art from the 1950s through the 1970s is a particular strength, with artwork by Sam Francis, Richard Diebenkorn, Ronald Davis, Larry Bell, Edward Ruscha, Kenneth Price, Charles Arnoldi, and Ed Moses, Color Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction are represented by Ronald Davis, Sam Francis, Kenneth Noland, Ronnie Landfield, Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler, and Kenneth Showell.


Major sculptors of the early 20th century, including Aristide Maillol, Constantin Brâncuşi, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, and Isamu Noguchi, are represented by works in bronze, lead and marble sculptures throughout the galleries, the Front Garden, and in the extensive Sculpture Garden grounds.


  1. ^ Building and Garden, Pacific Asia Museum, 2011
  2. ^ Chang, Jade (2005). Art/Shop/Eat Los Angeles. Somerset Books. pp. 90–98. ISBN 1905131062. 
  3. ^ Campbell, Sara; Knoke, C., & Williams, G. (2003). Handbook of the Norton Simon Museum.. Pasadena, California: Norton Simon Museum.. pp. 128. ISBN 0-9726681-1-1-X. 
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