From Degas at the Musée d’Orsay to Kandinsky and his symbolist cohorts at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum, new art exhibits are already heralding the start of spring. And what better way to fuel an art-inspired escape (or find an excuse to travel) than by wrapping your travels around one of these influential shows? Once you’re there, there’s certainly a lot to discover beyond the four walls of the museum. Just book a ticket, and let our mini itinerary guide your getaway.
1. Degas at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Why Go Now: The iconic French painter is on display in his hometown in the first major monographic exhibition dedicated to the artist in some 20 years. Degas and the Nude (March 13-July 1) is organized in partnership with the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, but leverages a significant amount of Degas’ work from the Orsay’s collection, including fragile works rarely accessible to the public.
Where to Stay: Park Hyatt Paris Vendôme is recipient of the Fodor’s Top 100 Hotel Awards for its elegance and landmark location. If you’re interested in checking into a brand-spanking new spot, the W Paris-Opéra hotel recently opened in the 9th Arrondissement and is the first representative of the luxe W chain in the city.
Insider Tip: The Orsay’s ornate restaurant with vaulted ceilings is one of the most picturesque spots for a bite in Paris. The museum is open late on Thursday evenings, which is the only night the restaurant serves dinner, with a tasting menu including drinks for €55.
2. Portraits of Queen Elizabeth II at National Portrait Gallery, London
Why Go Now: We’ve already declared London one of the must-visit destinations of 2012, not least for the upcoming Summer Olympics and Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. As part of the celebration of Elizabeth II’s 60-year reign, The Queen: Art and Image (May 17-October 21) brings together more than 60 portraits of the queen from renowned artists like Lucian Freud, Annie Leibovitz, and Andy Warhol, located at the National Portrait Gallery.
Where to Stay: The winning design at the Hoxton Hotel, worthy of a Fodor’s Top 100 Hotel Awards recognition, comes at surprisingly low prices, while The Belgraves from Thompson Hotels (opened February 1) also possesses a bohemian feel with traditional British class. To stay on the cutting-edge, try the new Temple Court Hotel (opened March 1), which offers a central location and a chic stay, or be one of the first to check in at the extravagant Bulgari London slated to open this April.
Insider Tip: To navigate the additional more than 160,000 portraits elsewhere in the Gallery after perusing the Queen’s exhibit, utilize the IT Gallery’s Portrait Explorer.
3. Symbolism at Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
Why Go Now: The exhibition Dreams of Nature: Symbolism from Van Gogh to Kandinsky (Feb. 24-June 16), at the Van Gogh Museum, is the first-ever show in Europe dedicated exclusively to the role of landscape in the symbolist movement of the late 19th century. With thematic groupings like "Ancient and New Paradises" and "Dreams and Visions," all paired to music of the era, the exhibit features works from some of the foremost names in European art, including Monet, Gauguin, Munch, Kandinsky and, of course, Van Gogh.
Where to Stay: For a chic yet laid-back hotel stay at bargain prices, reserve a room at the much buzzed-about CitizenM. If luxury is what you want and you don’t mind a steeper price, book at the modern-meets-classic Hotel de L’Europe, overlooking the Amstel River. Both properties earned Fodor’s Top 100 Hotel Awards recognition for 2011.
Insider Tip: The Van Gogh Museum is located a short walk across a green park from the popular "I amsterdam" outdoor public sculpture. It’s a favorite photo op for tourists, so be sure to pack your camera.
4. Modernism in Brazil, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Brasilia
Why Go Now: This rare showing, Flávio de Carvalho: The Modernist Revolution in Brazil (Feb. 7-April 29), spotlights one of the most influential leaders of Brazil’s Modernist movement, a dynamic artist who also was nominated for Nobel Prize recipient in literature and worked as an architect. He represented Brazil at the 1950 Venice Biennial, and this exhibit at the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil includes many of most acclaimed paintings. The show also features a replica of the Modern Artists Club, a refuge for modern artists in the 1930s.
Where to Stay: The Naoum Plaza Hotel is fit for a king, and in fact, many visiting heads of state take up temporary residence in the hotel, which has rooms outfitted with tropical wood furniture. The modern and centrally located Sol Meliá Brasil 21 has more of business vibe, ideal for efficient travelers look for a comfortable room and attentive service.
Insider Tip: Add "clothing designer" to Flávio de Carvalho’s list of mastered trades. He designed a suit for men living in humid, tropical climates, and it is on display as part of the exhibition.
5. Religious Art at Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Why Go Now: Rome, with its discovery in the 1852 of early Christian martyrs buried in its catacombs, was a center of Spanish religious painting in that era. The exhibit Historias Sagradas: Religious paintings by Spanish artists in Rome (1852-1864) (Jan. 23 2012-Jan. 27 2013), at the Museo Nacional del Prado, is a chance to delve into that period, with large-scale transcendental paintings from esteemed Spanish artists working at the genre’s pinnacle of production.
Where to Stay: The spacious rooms and plush beds at the Hotel Villa Magna, a Fodor’s Top 100 Hotel Awards winner, are perfect to return to after a day on your feet in museums. Or, for a stylish stay on a budget, try the Room Mate Alicia, a Fodor’s Choice pick near the Prado.
Insider Tip: Stop in on an evening (Tues.-Sat. from 6 pm-8 pm or Sun. 5 pm-8 pm) for free admission to the Prado, and leave enough time to check out the works of Spain’s masterful trio: Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco.
Photo Credits: Musee d'Orsay: Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons; National Portrait Gallery: Herry Lawford (National Portrait Gallery), via Wikimedia Commons; Van Gogh Museum: Ivica Drusany/Shutterstock.com; Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Brasilia: CENTRO CULTURAL - CCBB by Luciana Ferry Attribution-NonCommercial License; Prado: Javier Tuana/iStockphoto