The Salon Gallery at NGV International, the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo NGV Photographic Services

Art from home — 10 of the best virtual museum experiences across the Rest of the World

From the National Gallery of Victoria to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, how the world’s great museums are bringing the best of their collections into your home

David Walsh, the owner of Mona who built a fortune on gambling, is applying game theory to his museum’s Covid-19 strategy. Good chess players ‘prepare for the best move their opponent can make’, he said after shutting the museum’s doors.

People need entertainment, however, as Walsh himself acknowledged. So Tim Steiner, the former tattoo-parlour manager from Zürich who offered his back as a living canvas to the Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, will continue to sit on his plinth, topless and in silence, inside the empty museum. It’s part of the Delvoye exhibition, Tim, which runs until 30 April and is now entirely online.

Wim Delvoye, Tim, 2006. Photo MONAJesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of the artist and MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Wim Delvoye, Tim, 2006. Photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of the artist and MONA Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

You can live stream Tim in action from Mona’s website Wednesday to Monday, 10am to 4.30pm Australian time. After Tim dies, the tattoo of the Madonna and a skull will be removed and handed over to a German collector who reportedly paid €150,000 for the work in 2008.

Monas blog is also full of fascinating reads such as Ai Weiweis interview about the 2018 refugee crisis and Walsh’s weekly Covid-19 Diary, in which he shares the museum’s latest news, his fascinating statistician’s approach to virus control, and pictures drawn by his children.

Ai Weiwei, White House, 2015. Photo MONAJesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of MONA, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Ai Weiwei, White House, 2015. Photo: MONA/Jesse Hunniford. Image courtesy of MONA, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Don’t miss… The Orwellian website for Simon Denny’s show, Mine. While the artist’s subterranean exhibition, which focuses on the extraction of minerals and data, is temporarily closed, its online portal demonstrates the power of the internet by tracking your location on a map and telling you both what equipment you’re using and what the weather is like outside.

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The Louvre Abu Dhabi has launched a series called ‘Art from home: Stories of cultural connections’, which delves into the museum’s highlights with audio and video guides. It covers everything from Ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to Yves Klein’s blue paintings. There is also a great feature on how Gauguin was inspired by the Japanese prints of Hiroshige, which comes with a collage activity pack for children.

Paul Gauguin, Children Wrestling, 1888. Oil on canvas. Photo © Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi. Photograph by Agence PhotoF
Paul Gauguin, Children Wrestling, 1888. Oil on canvas. Photo: © Department of Culture and Tourism — Abu Dhabi. Photograph by Agence PhotoF

The museum’s Google Play and Apple app has more than 150 audio clips, including curator-led tours, and you can save your favourite works to a personal mini-gallery ahead of a future visit. It’s available in Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian, German and Hindi.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo © Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photograph by Hufton+Crow 

The Louvre Abu Dhabi. Photo: © Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi. Photograph by Hufton+Crow 

Don’t miss… The six-part series ‘Rembrandt, Vermeer & The Dutch Golden Age’ on the museum’s YouTube channel. The story is told by Blaise Ducos, Chief Curator of Dutch and Flemish paintings at the Louvre in Paris.

The NGS opened in 2015, in two iconic buildings from Singapore’s colonial past, the former City Hall and old Supreme Court. It boasts the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian modern art, which can be visited on a virtual tour through the Google Arts & Culture app.

Raden Saleh, Wounded Lion, circa 1838. Oil on canvas. 88 x 108.5 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. 2011-00665 
Raden Saleh, Wounded Lion, circa 1838. Oil on canvas. 88 x 108.5 cm. Collection of National Gallery Singapore. 2011-00665 

The resources on the Gallery’s own website are just as impressive, however. My Masterpiece offers an introduction to the collection, with 12 Singaporean celebrities explaining on video which NGS artwork means the most to them. (It’s no surprise to see that Raden Saleh’s superb Wounded Lion  from 1839 made the cut.)

There’s also an online magazine called Perspectives, full of video, audio and text-based content about the gallery and Southeast Asian art in general.

Don’t miss… the Perspectives  essay on Southeast Asian artists such as Le Pho, who flocked to Paris in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.

The NMND is one of the largest museums in India, with 200,000 artworks and artefacts from 5,000 years of the country’s history. An actual visit can be exhausting.

The virtual version is much more manageable. It exists on a single page, Online Exhibitions, and consists of mini-tours of key areas in the museum’s collection, from ivory carvings and ruby jewellery to Deccan miniature painting.

Unknown artist, Raga Hindola, 1590-1595. National Museum — New Delhi. This work was included in the museum’s Many Arts of the Deccan  exhibition. Photo Angelo Hornak  Alamy
Unknown artist, Raga Hindola, 1590-1595. National Museum — New Delhi. This work was included in the museum’s Many Arts of the Deccan  exhibition. Photo: Angelo Hornak / Alamy

For those after an even more concise experience, there’s also the option of a quick look at the museum’s greatest treasures, starting with the Harappan sculpture known as Dancing Girl, which dates back to the third millennium BC.

Don’t miss… the mini-tour of the museum’s stunning Indian bronzes.

The Palace Museum — also known as the Forbidden City — is a magnificent architectural complex housing more than a million artworks and artefacts from China’s past.

The gates of the Forbidden City, Beijing. Photo Alex-VNAlamy

The gates of the Forbidden City, Beijing. Photo: Alex-VN/Alamy

The virtual reality tour, complete with musical accompaniment, is a work of art in its own right — panoramic and atmospheric. It’s only offered in Mandarin, however, so non-speakers won’t learn terribly much.

For that, there is a separate page offering tours of the galleries that have wall-mounted texts in English, such as the Treasure Gallery with its ornamental objects crafted from gold, jade, emerald and other gems.

Don’t miss… the tour of the Gallery of Clocks.

Built as a prince’s palace in 1782, then converted into a museum a century later, the NMB is worth a visit for its vast array of Buddha sculptures alone.

For digital visitors, the Virtual Model 360 webpage is an opportunity to analyse 13 standout items from the collection.

Phra Buddha Sihing, mid-15th century. Bronze plated with gold. 166 cm high, including throne pedestal. Photo The National Museum of Bangkok
Phra Buddha Sihing, mid-15th century. Bronze plated with gold. 166 cm high, including throne pedestal. Photo: The National Museum of Bangkok
Hanuman actor’s mask. Metal, pearl, Smuk and decorated with glass. Height 26.7 cm. Photo The National Museum of Bangkok
Hanuman actor’s mask. Metal, pearl, Smuk and decorated with glass. Height: 26.7 cm. Photo: The National Museum of Bangkok

Even more engaging, though, is the Virtual Museum tour. It’s reasonably user-friendly, with an expandable map in the top right of the screen to help you get your bearings, plus a flag icon in front of objects that you can read more about.

Alas, the marvellous Buddhaisawan Chapel — and murals within — don’t seem to be part of the tour, but there’s plenty else to detain you.

Don’t miss… the chance to get up close to the Ram Khamhaeng Inscription stone from 1292.

Founded in 1861, Australia’s oldest and largest art gallery houses a collection of more than 75,000 works across two sites in Melbourne: NGV International and NGV Australia. The former is home to masterpieces by Monet, Rodin, Picasso and Bacon; the latter to aboriginal artefacts, colonial art and Impressionist, 20th-century and contemporary art. Thankfully, much of this, as well as a curated edit of recent exhibitions, is available to explore online.

Exhibited in Keith Haring  Jean-Michel Basquiat Crossing Lines Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), Hollywood Africans in Front of the Chinese Theatre with Footprints of Movie Stars, 1983. Synthetic polymer paint and oilstick on canvas on wood panel. 90 x 207 cm. The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New

Exhibited in Keith Haring / Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines: Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-88), Hollywood Africans in Front of the Chinese Theatre with Footprints of Movie Stars, 1983. Synthetic polymer paint and oilstick on canvas on wood panel. 90 x 207 cm. The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, New York. © Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York 

The NGV’s Channel webpage has links to activities and learning resources for the whole family, from a choice of brilliantly intuitive 360° virtual self-guided exhibition tours (including Keith Haring / Jean-Michel Basquiat: Crossing Lines) to curator-led videos and features exploring the stories behind collection highlights.

For those with young children at home, the NGV Kids at Home programme offers free worksheets, art games and DIY craft activities. For inspiration, follow #NGVEveryDay on social media.

The Salon Gallery at NGV International, the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo NGV Photographic Services

The Salon Gallery at NGV International, the National Gallery of Victoria. Photo: NGV Photographic Services

Don’t miss… Drop-by Drawing with artist Lily Mae Martin. In this 20-minute video, Lily takes you through a number of drawing techniques and exercises to help you practice observational sketching at home.

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  • Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar Take a virtual tour of Islamic history

Opened in 2008 on the Doha Bay waterfront, this I.M. Pei-designed museum boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of Islamic art in the world. Spanning three continents and 1,400 years of history and culture, it includes religious and secular ceramics, manuscripts, metalwork, pottery, textiles and jewellery.

Highlights of the Google Arts & Culture virtual tour include the mid-16th-century Rothschild Small Silk Medallion Carpet and, from the 10th century, a Nishapur bowl from Iran and a Planispheric Astrolabe from Iraq, which may have been used by pilgrims to chart their journeys to Mecca.

Folio from the Blue Quran, Spain or North Africa, Umayyad of al-Andalus or Fatimid period, 3rd-4th century AH9th-10th century CE. Gold and ink on indigo-dyed parchment. MS.8.2006. Photo © The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar Museums. Photo by Louis Lammerhuber
Folio from the 'Blue Qur'an', Spain or North Africa, Umayyad of al-Andalus or Fatimid period, 3rd-4th century AH/9th-10th century CE. Gold and ink on indigo-dyed parchment. MS.8.2006. Photo: © The Museum of Islamic Art, Qatar Museums. Photo by Louis Lammerhuber

Online, you’ll also find a variety of activity resources and challenges (in English and Arabic) for all age groups, covering topics such as weaving and heritage textiles. Whether you’ve tackled a word search or an online jigsaw, you are invited to share your progress with the hashtag #miaqatar or #MIAlenoubda.

Don’t miss…The Highlights Tour, a digital slide show of star exhibits, including the Cavour Vase, a blue-purple enamelled and gilded glass vessel made during the Mamluk period (circa 1250-1517 BC).

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The website of the National Palace Museum is not the most intuitive, but there are many gorgeous things to discover among its 700,000-strong collection, including ancient Chinese imperial artefacts, paintings, calligraphy, jades, ceramics, rare books, bronzes and more.

The National Palace Museum in Taipei. Photo Alamy

The National Palace Museum in Taipei. Photo: Alamy

At the bottom left of the homepage banner are five buttons, the second of which, Exhibits, takes you to a page with four turquoise panels, bottom right. Click on 720 VR in the National Palace Museum and you will find yourself enjoying a sunny day in the museum’s gardens, gliding past palm trees towards its main entrance beneath a brilliant blue sky.

Once inside, you can either explore at will, or select from some rather clunky Featured Routes. It feels as though you really could spend the best part of a day here online — the literature accompanying the exhibits is detailed and informative, even if the female chatbot voiceover explanations are a little grating.

Back on the homepage, the fourth button down offers a variety of video options which we found a little confusing. But if you have the time, try clicking on the NPM Selections panel. Buried in here are myriad images and videos — try seeking out the world’s largest collection of Ru ware; the Jadeite Cabbage that entranced our specialist Ruben Lien as a child; and a 16th-century cloissoné censer in the form of a wild duck.

Lang Shining (1688-1766), One Hundred Horses (detail). Handscroll, ink and colours on silk. 94.5 x 776 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo © National Palace Museum. All Rights Reserved
Lang Shining (1688-1766), One Hundred Horses (detail). Handscroll, ink and colours on silk. 94.5 x 776 cm. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: © National Palace Museum. All Rights Reserved

Don’t miss… a four-minute animated interpretation of Giuseppe Castiglione’s 1728 handscroll painting, One Hundred Horses.

Have you dreamt of visiting Tokyo to see Hokusai’s famous Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ — minus the crowds? The Tokyo National Museum and its huge collection of Pan-Asian art can now be explored in peace and quiet online.

The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Tokyo National Museum. Photo David Cherepuschak  Alamy

The Gallery of Horyuji Treasures, Tokyo National Museum. Photo: David Cherepuschak / Alamy

In partnership with Google, there is also a short interactive exhibit about the museum’s 16th-century Maple Viewers folding screen, which is decorated with scenes of snow-capped mountains, Buddhist monks and maple trees in blossom outside Kyoto. The work of art is so admired in Japan that it has been declared one of the country’s national treasures.

Warrior in Keiko armour, Haniwa (Terracotta Tomb Figurine), Kofun period, 6th century, from Iizuka-cho, Ota-shi, Gunma. Tokyo National Museum. J-36697
Warrior in Keiko armour, Haniwa (Terracotta Tomb Figurine), Kofun period, 6th century, from Iizuka-cho, Ota-shi, Gunma. Tokyo National Museum. J-36697
The Dog General, One of the Twelve Divine Generals, Kamakura period, 13th century. Painted wood with gold and crystal (eyes). Tokyo National Museum. C-1853
The Dog General, One of the Twelve Divine Generals, Kamakura period, 13th century. Painted wood with gold and crystal (eyes). Tokyo National Museum. C-1853

For Japanese speakers (or those looking to practice), the museum’s YouTube channel has curator-led tours of four of its current exhibitions, including Hina and Japanese Dolls  and the Korean Court Culture of the Joseon Dynasty.

Don’t miss…The Magic of Japanese Masterpieces’, a radio series produced by Japan’s national broadcasting company NHK and the Tokyo National Museum that delves into the history of artefacts, including a 17th-century mandarin duck-covered kimono and a 16th-century bronze lantern decorated with plum and bamboo plants. It is available in English and 16 other languages.