Serendipity - it's a great word, isn't it? One online dictionary defines it as "The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident" and I'm a fan of such accidental discoveries. Our most recent was the Musee Ariana in Geneva. What's the chance that my husband and I, wandering around looking for the Red Cross museum and the United Nations building, will stumble across museum dedicated to two arts that we're passionate about? We love glass and we particularly love ceramics and as we walked from the bus stop to the Red Cross museum we just happened to see the signs for the Musee Ariana. As luck would have it this is the only museum in the whole of Switzerland that's devoted to ceramics and glass. And it's FREE! Truly the gods were smiling down on us that Sunday afternoon.
For our friends who were with us, it was a bit less serendipitous and a bit more down-to-earth-boring and we were consequently forced - in the interest of international diplomacy (well we were near the UN so maybe it was rubbing off on us - to rush our visit more than we really wanted to. None the less we loved this little unexpected gem of a museum.
Take the number 8 bus from the central railway station to the stop called Appia. The museum is ever so slightly up the hill from the bus stop, on the way to the Red Cross museum and the back gates of the United Nations. I spotted the beautiful big old villa set back from the road with fountains in front and neat grass lawns around it. We'd seen several of these old houses the day before when wandering by the lake and I'd really wanted an excuse to get inside and look around. A fairly discrete sign identified the building as a museum of ceramics and glass and - even better - announced that entrance was free. After we finished at the Red Cross we headed back to the Ariana, tempting our friends in with the thought of being able to check out the building, even if they weren't crazy about the contents. Knowing that ceramics were less appealing to them than to us, we left them in the enormous lobby where they found some comfy seating and settled down to admire the building and wait for us.
My assumption when I saw the building was that it must once have been the family home of a wealthy banker or nobleman but searching around the internet I was surprised to find that the building seems to have been purpose built as a museum. In retrospect, the layout probably wouldn't have been an easy one to live with as a domestic dwelling. It was built in the late 19th Century and was always intended to be a glass and ceramics museum.
Stepping into the building you walk into a giant atrium that stretches up to the ceiling. It's a spectacular building with a gallery around the upper floor from which you can look down into the atrium. There's an information desk on the left hand side as you enter and a small stall selling gifts and memorabilia at the far end.
Regrettably we had to take some of the rooms at great speed and this meant we didn't have time to stop and translate all the labels but we were determined to get a quick look at everything. My husband is particularly interested in faience, majolica and tin-glazed ceramics so the first couple of rooms of very early work stopped him in his tracks. In each room we had a quick scout around before picking one or two pieces or a particular themed cabinet to stop and look at in more details. None of the labels were in English which helps one focus on what's worth the effort of translating. One gallery was devoted to showing a wide range of different firing and decorating techniques but I'd have to confess that some rooms were full of dusty old crockery that held little fascination. We'd picked up a pamphlet about a special exhibition of young ceramists when we entered but after scouting around the entire ground floor we still hadn't found it. Whilst hovering around the base of the staircase we were stopped by an employee who asked what we were looking for and when I showed her the pamphlet she invited us to go with her to the upper floor and she'd show us the way. Thank goodness that we found her because the top floor was really interesting. We loved the young artists exhibition which was full of quirky exhibits such as a rainbow of tiny porcelain umbrellas and a tiny white bisque dog on a sofa. The other highlight of the top floor was the glass collection which was displayed in small cases around the balcony. The timing must have been perfect since the museum was built at the height of the French art-glass boom and whilst there was not a large collection, everything was absolutely top-notch. Each case contained no more than a dozen pieces with exquisite examples of Lalique, Galle and Daum. If the sign of a good museum is how many exhibits you see that you REALLY want to steal, then this was truly outstanding.
Also on the upper floor you'll find a very attractive café with a large balcony from which you can look out over the neighbourhood and towards the mountains. I'll swear the little blob of white in the distance was the tip of Mont Blanc.
Worth a look?
In total our visit was probably only about 45 minutes but if we'd been alone I think we'd have stayed for several hours. I really liked the atmosphere of the museum and the beauty of the building that housed it and if it hadn't been raining when we left, I could easily have whiled away a bit more time dithering in the garden.