Established in 1965, the Timken Museum of Art contains valuable works, including European old masters, American art, and Russian icons.
Founding director Walter Ames established the museum to house the personal collection of heiresses Amy and Anne Putnam. It’s in a prime location inside Balboa Park, one of Southern California’s most beautiful parks, next to the San Diego Museum of Art and the Botanical Building.
Its white, marble, and bronze exterior architecture is something to admire also before you walk into this free attraction. But you should step inside to see the only Rembrandt in San Diego, Saint Bartholomew.
Five Highlights to See
Here are some highlights of the Timken Museum of Art:
- Rembrandt van Rijin, Saint Bartholomew (1657): This striking painting of Saint Bartholomew, one of the twelve apostles holding a butcher knife (symbolic of his martyrdom), really should be seen in person.
- Luca Carlevarijs, The Piazzetta at Venice (1700-10): As a traveler, I appreciate that this scene of Venice is largely the same today.
- Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Parable of the Sower (1557): A beautiful interpretation of the Biblical parable of the sower by one of the greatest Flemish painters of the 16th century. I love the colors.
- Francois Boucher, Lovers in a Park (1758): Boucher was the favorite artist of Louis XV’s mistress Madame de Pompadour, and this style of art is associated with the king’s reign.
- Russian Icons: Timken’s collection fills a small room. Each Russian icon tells a story of faith, a holy person or an event, painted on a wooden panel in line with the beliefs and standards of the Orthodox Church.
Things to Know Before Visiting the Timken Museum of Art
There are several important considerations to keep in mind before visiting the Timken Museum of Art. These include the following.
Donation-BAsed Admission & Hours
The Timken Museum of Art is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Wednesday to Sunday. The museum occasionally closes for special events, so keep an eye on the website to ensure you can enter.
The museum is unique in not requiring payment or tickets to enter. Donations are accepted in any amount that guests feel is appropriate. The recommended amount is $7.
The museum also offers memberships for frequent guests, which grants you 20% off at the gift shop, among other privileges.
Download The App
Timken has a great phone app to help you learn more about each painting. The app has an intuitive interface and a built-in scavenger hunt for the kids!
Bring a pair of earbuds so that you can listen to the tours as you walk around the museum.
Free Guided Tours
Groups of adults and school groups can schedule free docent-guided tours of the museum that last 45-60 minutes.
Visiting with Kids
Of course, accompanied kids are welcome. Because it’s a small museum, you must check empty strollers and backpack carriers at the front desk. Strollers in use and front baby carriers are okay.
You’ll need to be sure you carry your handbag in front of you as well, not on your hip or your back.
Food and Beverages
Keep all food and beverages sealed and concealed in your bag, or leave them at the front desk.
Although the museum does not have an eatery, you can find many restaurants and cafes in Balboa Park. Panama 66 (one of our favorites) is just across the courtyard from the museum.
The small gift area at the front of the museum. You can find unique handmade items, sophisticated jewelry, and books on art and architecture. All proceeds from the gift shop directly support the museum. The gift shop often features one-of-a-kind gifts during the holidays.
It’s free to park in the Balboa Park parking lots, and a tram circles through some of them to shorten the walk to and from your car.
The closest lots are south of the Timken Museum, adjacent to the International Houses, San Diego Air & Space Museum. The Alcazar Lot is probably the closest, but any other nearby lots will do.
Fun Facts About the Timken Museum of Art
The Timken Museum of Art has an interesting history that even residents may not know about.
Look out for docents who share tidbits of fascinating knowledge about the collection.
1. It Stands on a Historic Site
The building’s past makes it a significant cultural landmark.
The Timken Museum stands on the historic site of the former Home Economy Building. Constructed in 1915 for the Panama-California Exposition, the building stood in Balboa Park and served multiple uses until its demise in 1962.
2. Henry Timken Was a Hero
Henry Timken, who helped fund the museum, was a German immigrant and a 19th-century inventor and entrepreneur.
Long story short, he patented a tapered roller bearing for carriages that enabled wheels to turn with less friction. His invention rocked the transportation market, and by 1923, a whopping ninety percent of the country’s roller bearings came from his company.
The Timken Museum was one of many philanthropic endeavors that Henry Timken funded, and his legacy lives on through this cultural gem.
3. It’s Comprised of The Putnam Collection
Timken Museum’s art collection is mostly thanks to the paintings acquired by sisters Amy and Anne Putnam and, subsequently, their foundation. However, this was only the last gesture in a long legacy of anonymous donations.
The sisters donated works of art to the San Diego Museum of Art throughout the 1940s and other prominent museums nationwide. In fact, the Timken Museum of Art was established to bring pieces to San Diego that were on loan abroad.
4. You Can Attend Neat Events
I’m a huge fan of checking museum calendars to see what is on tap. During my last visit to the Timken, you could sign up for a flower arranging class (which has since sold out due to high demand).
You can also sign up for virtual talks and tours.
5. The Museum Gives Back
Timken is involved in many local charitable causes. The museum offers art classes to boys and girls incarcerated in juvenile detention.
It also works with veterans healing from mental and physical injuries at the VA San Diego Healthcare System.
Why We Love the Timken Museum of Art
Balboa Park is at the heart of San Diego’s cultural hub, and it’s so, so easy to step into the Timken Museum of Art for a little bit to see some truly special paintings. It’s next door to the San Diego Museum of Art and adjacent to the Botanical Building and Lily Pond.
The app provides insight into each painting that adds tremendous value to your experience. You will definitely learn something new.
And, yes, it’s small but why not step inside? It’s free to enter.
Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).
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