The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, as its name implies, houses Argentina’s national collection of fine arts. Occupying a former pumping station that was converted to its current use in 1933, the terra cotta-colored museum perhaps lacks some of the grandeur one might expect of the home of the nation’s artistic treasures.
Rather than a comprehensive collection, the museum’s works more closely resemble a patchwork assemblage representing the varied tastes of its benefactors: a Rembrandt here, a small El Greco there, a Jackson Pollack over there. The collection’s strength is 19th and early 20th century art, and consists primarily from Argentinean and European artists. Although diminutive in breadth, the museum houses a surprisingly strong collection of French Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Early Modern European paintings.
The extensive collection of Argentinean works is difficult for the visitor to get a handle on, since so little is known about them outside of Argentina. Consequently, I won’t try to pretend to know anything about Argentinean masters of the last two centuries. What I can tell you is that if names like Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, Sisley, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Modigliani, and Miro sound appealing, you’ll want to add the MBNA to your Buenos Aires itinerary.
The further one ventures into the galleries of European art, the more impressed one becomes. A painting by Jean François Millet is followed by two beautiful Claude Monet landscapes, Le berge de La Seine and Le Pont de Argenteuil. Then come works by Sisley, Pissarro, Morisot, Manet, and more. There’s one painting of Vincent van Gogh’s, the nice but unremarkable Le Moulin de la Galette. An entire salon is dedicated to pastels by Edgar Degas.
Standouts among the Early Modern works include Amedeo Modigliani’s Figura de mujer and Buste de Femme, and Pablo Picasso’s Femme allongée.
Without a doubt my favorite piece in the MNBA’s collection is Paul Gauguin’s spectacular Vahine no te miti (1892). The vibrancy of the yellows and blues on the canvas cannot be faithfully duplicated in digital or printed copies. The painting seemed to jump off the wall compared to the works around it.
Juxtaposed with his Swimmers in Breton (1887) which hung beside it, one can’t help but notice the striking difference between the two paintings. In 5 years, Gauguin’s style had completely changed. The earlier piece features a more subdued color palette applied with short dabs of the brush, trademark of the French Impressionist style. The later piece, completed a year after his first visit to Tahiti, features a flat, two-dimensional subject portrayed in brilliant hues of yellow, green, and cobalt blue.
If you’re a fan of the French Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, or Early Modern European painters, The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes is a must-see when you visit Buenos Aires.
Hours: Tue-Fri 12:30-19:30; Sat-Sun 9:30-19:30
Admission: Free; donations recommended