Long familiar to TV viewers of the New Year's Day Tournament of Roses Parade, this low-profile brown building is more than just a background for the passing floats. It's one of the finest mid-sized museums anywhere, with a collection that spans more than 2,000 years of Western and Asian art. It all began in the 1950s when Norton Simon (Hunt-Wesson Foods, McCalls Corporation, and Canada Dry) started collecting works by Degas, Renoir, Gauguin, and Cézanne. His collection grew to include old masters, impressionists, and modern works from Europe, as well as Indian and Southeast Asian art.
Today the Norton Simon Museum is richest in works by Rembrandt, Picasso, and, most of all, Degas—this is one of the only two U.S. institutions (the other is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art) to hold nearly all of the artist's model bronzes; the museum also has the casts he used to make the collection. Renaissance, baroque, and rococo masterpieces include Raphael's Madonna with Child with
Book (1503), Rembrandt's Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Wide-Brimmed Hat (1633), and a magical Tiepolo ceiling, The Triumph of Virtue and Nobility Over Ignorance (1740–50). The museum's impressionist and post-impressionist (Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir) and cubist (Braque, Gris) works are extensive.
Several Rodin sculptures grace the front garden. Head down to the bottom floor to see temporary exhibits and phenomenal Southeast Asian and Indian sculptures and artifacts, where pieces like a Ban Chiang blackware vessel date to well before 1000 BC. Don't miss a living artwork outdoors: the garden, conceived by noted southern California landscape designer Nancy Goslee Power. The tranquil pond was inspired by Monet's gardens at Giverny.