Thanks to a remarkable curator, the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire displays a striking collection of paintings gathered under broad themes—nature, civilization—and mounted in a radical, evocative way. The 15th-century allegories, early impressionist paintings, and contemporary abstractions pack the walls from floor to ceiling, interacting, conflicting, and demanding comparison. You may climb a platform (itself plastered with paintings) to view the higher works. This aggressive series of displays is framed by the architectural decorations of Neuchâtel resident Clement Heaton, whose murals and stained glass make the building itself a work of art.
This novel museum also has the honor of hosting three of this watchmaking capital's most exceptional guests: the automates Jaquet-Droz,three astounding little androids, created between 1768 and 1774, that once toured the courts of Europe like young mechanical Mozarts. Pierre Jaquet-Droz and his son Henri-Louis created them, and they
are moving manifestations of the stellar degree to which watchmaking had evolved by the 18th century. Le Dessinateur (the Draughtsman) is an automated dandy in satin knee pants who draws graphite images of a dog, the god Eros in a chariot pulled by a butterfly, and a profile of Louis XV. La Musicienne (the Musician) is a young woman playing the organ. She moves and breathes subtly along with the music and actually strikes the keys that produce the organ notes. L'Écrivain (the Writer) dips a real feather into real ink and writes 40 different letters. Like a primitive computer, he can be programmed to write any message simply by the change of a steel disk. The automatons come alive only on the first Sunday of the month, at 2, 3, and 4 (more often in summer; days and times are posted on the museum's website), but the audiovisual show re-creates the thrill.