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 small museums anywhere, with an excellent 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 to hold the complete set of the artist's model bronzes (the other is New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art). Renaissance, baroque, and rococo masterpieces include Raphael's profoundly spiritual 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 collections of impressionist (Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir) and cubist (Braque, Gris) works are extensive. The popular 19th-Century Art Wing was renovated in 2013 to better showcase these paintings. Several Rodin sculptures are placed throughout the museum. Head down to the bottom floor to see rotating exhibits and phenomenal Southeast Asian and Indian sculptures and artifacts, where graceful 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.