If you love the Old Masters and don’t like paying admission, try the Timken. Not only is it the only Balboa Park museum with free admission, but it’s the only museum in the city with a Rembrandt. The collection is small—just 60-some paintings—but it’s widely considered one of the best museums of its size in the world.
The Rembrandt in question is St. Bartholomew. It’s one of two by the Dutch artist—the other, painted four years later, is at the Getty Center. Both depict the apostle in deep thought, holding the knife symbolic of his martyrdom, but the Timken’s painting is by far the more dramatic. The deep darkness of the background and Bartholomew’s robe surrounds the chiaroscuro playing across his furrowed brow, as the saint contemplates his impending execution.
The rest of the collection is equally impressive. All the big names in European art from Late Renaissance to Rococo are here, with Veronese and Brueghel the Elder and Fragonard. American 19th-century oil painting is also well-represented, as is the furthest thing from it—Russian Orthodox icons. These 15th and 16th-century religious works by anonymous artists in tempera on wood are particularly striking, seen by the faithful as a window into the heavenly realm. The French tapestry is also worth the visit in its own right. Made in collaboration by various artists for the Duke Charles Emmanuel of Savoy, the four panels depict scenes from the life of the legendary Queen Artemisia.
Free tours of the museum are available, as well as a number of other programs worth participating in if you’re planning your visit ahead or live in the area. Art lectures and gallery talks are offered each month, and the Timken regularly hosts day trips to artists’ studios and other museums.
But if you’re reading this article and gnashing your teeth at the misfortune of finding yourself thousands of miles from the Timken Museum, take heart. Much of the collection can be found in high resolution online, and you can even take a complete virtual tour courtesy of Google Maps.
The museum can be found at 1500 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.