To celebrate my birthday last week, I visited the art museums at Yale University. It was a fun Saturday full of world class art and architecture. The Yale campus is gorgeous, as is the artwork within it. I reviewed the Yale University Art Gallery yesterday, so I’ll focus today’s post on the Yale Center for British Art. By the time I finished up at the Art Gallery, I was seriously running out of energy. I just ended up wandering around the museum and casually enjoying what I encountered. It’s not my usual strategy, but I found that it’s actually a nice way to enjoy a museum.
The Yale Center for British Art is located at 1080 Chapel Street in New Haven, Connecticut. It’s on Yale University’s campus, and it’s only steps away from the Yale University Art Gallery. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday noon – 5 pm. It’s free, open to the public, and handicapped accessible. There’s a nice gift shop off the lobby. There’s no restaurant, but several cute eateries can be found nearby.
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As you can tell from the name, this museum focuses exclusively on British art. And there’s lots of it, dating from 1550 to the present day. I don’t know that much about the history of British art, so I enjoyed venturing into new territory here.
This museum has a cool and unusual layout, as one might well expect in a building designed by Louis I. Kahn. (He also designed parts of the Art Gallery across the street). The exhibition galleries are built around two atriums that are open from the second floor through the fourth. You can peek over the railing (carefully!) on the top floor and see the art on display in the Library Court two floors below. An industrial-looking concrete drum houses a stairwell that deposits you right into that courtyard gallery. There, you can sit on the comfy leather couches and look up at two stories worth of large-scale paintings by British history’s most famous artists. The contrast between the traditional, academic art and the modernist concrete drum is really striking.
Another cool display is the Long Gallery on the fourth floor, which shows paintings salon style. This means that the walls are hung floor to ceiling with many rows of paintings. I enjoyed pretending I was at one of the great 19th-century academic salons, I quickly learned that I’m far too short to have enjoyed them. The Long Gallery is especially good for browsing, because the artwork is grouped by subject. For example, there’s a whole section of paintings of ancient and exotic ruins. There aren’t any wall labels. You have to consult a special binder if you want info on a particular piece, but I found it nice to skip this and follow pure aesthetic judgment for once.
The third floor special exhibition galleries were closed for installation in late January. This was a blessing in disguise, since museum fatigue was setting in, and I was able to enjoy the permanent collections without rushing to see an even more.
Things to Keep in Mind If You Go
Most of what I have to say here is the same as for the other Yale Art Gallery.
- Street parking in New Haven is possible, but you’re limited to two hours in the same spot. There are also decks in town. If you’re just going to the Center for British Art, the two hour limit might be fine. If you want to see parts of both, it definitely won’t be.
- The Center offers free memberships. Fill out the short form and turn it in at the desk. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of it.
- This museum is a very manageable size. I suspect that’s true even with the special exhibitions open. If this museum is your priority, you can see it in its entirety in a few hours. If you want to spend the whole day, you’ll shave a little time left to peak into the larger museum across the street.
- The fourth floor is divided into a lot of little sub-galleries. They’re all identical squares, so it’s easy to lose your bearings. You might have to do more than one lap to ensure you’ve seen everything. This fourth floor display is called Britain in the World: A New Look into the Collections, and it features six sections telling different parts of Britain’s story. Follow the narrative to aid navigation
The Yale Center for British Art’s tight national focus and arrangement of galleries both favor museum goers with some prior experience. I recommend it for Anglophiles and people with a few museum trips under their belts. But please don’t let that discourage you if you’re the former but not the latter! I have no doubt that you’ll feel right at home.