It is hard to believe that anyone travels from Europe or North America to Rio de Janeiro specifically to see the city’s museums and galleries, as good as they are, especially as many “tourists” are the very same people who never dream of entering a museum or gallery even in their own home city or country.
However if you do enjoy museum and galleries, or have an historical interest and the time, then there are a number of museums and cultural centres in Rio that are well worth tracking down and are truly world class, the majority of them being located downtown in Centro.
Most museums and galleries choose to close on Monday.
National History Museum (Museu Histórico Nacional)
Praça Marechal Ancora (near Praça XV de Novembro) – Centro. Open Tuesday through Friday from 10am to 5.30pm and Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 2 to 6 pm. Tel: 2550-9224.
The National History Museum was founded as recently as 1922 during the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Yet, for all that, it is located in one of the city’s oldest buildings, parts of which date back to 1603 when it was the Fortaleza de São Tiago (São Tiago Fort).
The building, which also includes parts of the old arsenal built in 1762, is worth visiting the museum for alone, a museum that covers Brazilian history from the country’s discovery in 1500 to the Proclamation of the Republic in 1889. The National History Museum, which has more than 287,000 diverse pieces in its archive, including the largest collection of coins and banknotes in Latin America, is considered to be one of Brazil’s most important historic museums.
Museum of the Republic (Museu da República)
Rua do Catete, 153 – Catete. Next to the Catete metro station. Open from noon until 5pm. (Closed on Monday). Tel: 3826-7984.
A visit to the Museum of the Republic (Museu da República), which first opened in 1960, complements a visit to the National History Museum in that the Museum of the Republic picks up Brazil’s story from the Proclamation of the Republic, in 1889, and carries it through until the capital of Brazil moved from Rio de Janeiro to Brasília in 1960.
The museum occupies one of the most impressive buildings of the Empire – The Catete Palace – that was built to a German design between 1858 and 1866. In 1896 the Palace was purchased by the Government and served as the official residence of the President of the Republic hosting every Brazilian President from Deodoro da Fonseca until Getúlio Vargas committed suicide there on August 24, 1954. A total of eighteen.
The museum is also home to Galeria do Lago, a well regarded contemporary art gallery with ever changing exhibitions, all of which in some way relate to the Museu da República. Located close by, at Rua do Catete, 181, is the Edison Carneiro Folklore Museum and its collection of popular art, crafts, rituals and carnival.
Museum of Tomorrow (Museu do Amanhã)
Pier Mauá – Praça Mauá – Centro. Open from 10.00 am until 5pm. (Closed on Monday).
Designed by renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, the Museum of Tomorrow is one of the anchors of the newly developed Porto Maravilha cultural area that also houses the Museum of Rio Art. Dedicated to the sciences, the facility, which opened in December 2015, has a format unlike any other museum of natural history or of science and technology.
The Museum of Tomorrow offers visitors the opportunity to engage in personal-choice experiences, have a glimpse of future possibilities and envision how they will live and shape the planet in the next fifty years. The space explores variations on tomorrows in the fields of matter, life and thought and debates questions like climate change, population growth and longevity, global integration, the world’s increased diversity of material goods and its decreased natural diversity. It is a museum where people can follow the trails of their imagination and make their own choices about the future more conscientiously and ethically.
Itamaraty Palace & Diplomatic Museum
Av. Marechal Floriano, 196 – Centro. Two minute walk from Presidente Vargas metro station. Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 3 to 5 pm. Tel: 2253-7691.
The Itamaraty Palace was home to the Brazilian Foreign Service from 1889 until its move to Brasília in 1970, ten years after the rest of the Federal Government had transferred. The building dates back to 1854 and was home to Brazil’s first Presidents from 1889 until 1897 when the President’s official residence moved to the Catete Palace (Museum of the Republic). The Palace’s most distinguished resident, was not a president, but the Barão do Rio Branco, an outstanding statesman, who as Brazil’s Foreign Minister helped shape the whole of South America as we know it today. The building is of more interest to most foreign visitors than the diplomatic museum.
National Museum (Museu Nacional)
Quinta da Boa Vista – São Cristóvão. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. On Monday from noon. Tel. 2568-8262.
Founded by Dom João VI on June 6, 1918, the National Museum is the country’s oldest scientific institute. Starting out as the House of Birds it has subsequently been called the Royal Museum and the Imperial Museum before becoming the National Museum.
Although dedicated to the sciences, and featuring over one million items, including Brazil’s most complete archaeological, zoological, pale ontological, botanical, ethnological, mineral and classical antiquity collections, it is the actual home of the museum that is of historical importance.
Built in 1803, this impressive palace and its grounds were a gift of its wealthy Portuguese owner, Elias Antonio Lopes, to Dom João VI when he came to Brazil in 1808. It acted as the residence of the King during his time in Brazil and afterwards served the same purpose for the Emperors Pedro I and Pedro II and as the seat of the Imperial Government until the proclamation of the Republic in 1889. The house became the National Museum in 1892. Sadly there are few traces of its historical past to be found in the Museum.
Situated close by, at the entrance to the zoo, you will find the Fauna Museum displaying stuffed birds and mammals from the country’s different regions including the Amazon, the Pantanal of Mato Grosso and the Tocantins River in Goiás.
The São Cristovão metro station is within walking distance.
Av. Luis Carlos Prestes, 130 – Barra da Tijuca. Open daily from 9 am to 5pm. Tel: 3572-1963.
Through interactive displays the museum shows the history of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF). The visit begins in a reception area where two large interactive panels show the history of the CBF. Then, in the auditorium, there is a moving audiovisual presentation dedicated to Brazilian football. The first section shows the origins of the Brazilian team, the seleção. The following areas comprise a large multimedia table, showing the complete history of the team, and the trophy room, with a collection celebrating more than 200 wins, as well as state-of-the-art screens and large format audiovisuals. The visit continues with an area dedicated to Brazil’s five World Cups wins and the players.
Museum of Image and Sound (Museu da Imagem e do Som)
Av Atlântica, 3432 – Copacabana. Opening 2016. Tel: 2332 9509.
Indian Museum (Museu do Indio)
Rua das Palmeiras, 55 – Botafogo. Open Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 5.30pm; Saturday and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. Tel: 3214-8700.
The museum moved to its current location, a mansion build in the 19th century, in 1978. The archives include over 14,000 pieces as well as one of the most complete and specialized libraries in South America specializing in ethnology and similar topics. The museum is also home to over 50,000 images, including 3,000 photos that have been scanned and stored on CD-Rom. There are also 500,000 documents of historic value that cover the diverse indigenous groups and Brazilian indigenous politics from the end of the 19th century through the present.
The museum also boasts a shop in which can be found a number of unusual and tasteful souvenirs of your time in Brazil. All purchases go to help Brazil indigenous groups. A selection of available items can be seen on the museum’s web site.
Villa-Lobos Museum (Museu Villa-Lobos)
Rua Sorocaba, 200 – Botafogo. Open Monday to Friday from 10am-5pm Tel: 2226 9282
The small museum’s archive consists of original musical scores, letters, documents, newspaper clippings, international and domestic concert programs, awards and decorations that reflect the life of the man and the composer. The permanent exhibit displays personal objects, musical instruments, medals, decorations and photos representative of Villa-Lobos’ artistic career.
Av. Rui Barbosa – Parque do Flamengo. Currently shut but normally open Tuesday to Friday from 11am to 5pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 5pm. Tel: 2334-4293.
This small, well-kept museum is worth a quick look if you are passing. Dedicated to one of Brazil’s most famous exports, Carmen Miranda, the museum features the late star’s clothes, jewels, awards and costumes.
National Museum of Fine Arts (Belas Artes)
Av. Rio Branco, 199 – Centro. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10 am to 6 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 pm. Tel: 3299-0600.
Rio’s most important permanent art collection is found downtown in Av. Rio Branco, almost opposite the Municipal Theatre. Boasting more than 20,000 pieces in its archive, the National Museum of Fine Arts splits the display between Brazilian artists of the colonial period and the 19th century; Brazilian artists of the 20th century; foreign artists; as well as special visiting exhibits or selections from the archive. The building that houses the National Museum of Fine Arts dates from 1908 while the museum itself was founded in 1937.
Museum of Rio Art (Museu de Arte do Rio – MAR)
Praça Mauá, 5 – Centro. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Tel: 2203-1235.
If we had to choose one gallery to recommend to visitors, it would have to be the striking Museum of Rio Art, the Museu de Arte do Rio or MAR, which is located in Praça Mauá. The reason is simple. Everything on display relates to the city of Rio and its history.
The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, opened the museum and gallery on 1 March 2013, the date of the city’s 448th birthday. It was the first really tangible result of the redevelopment of the city’s port area and a project known as Porto Maravilha, and is in front of the Museum of Tomorrow.
The museum is just one of several new cultural centres that were planned for the port region in time for the 2016 Olympics. It is made up of two buildings, the Dom João VI Palace, which is a listed building, and a more modern building that used to be a car park and part of the bus terminal. The buildings are joined by a fifth-floor walkway.
MAR has eight exhibition halls that offer visitors a multi-faceted vision of the history of the city and of its social fabric, life, conflicts, contradictions, challenges and expectations.
Exhibits link the historical and contemporary dimensions of art through short- and long-term shows of national and international interest. MAR is currently amassing its own collection through acquisitions and donations and will also exhibit loaned art works from some of Brazil’s finest public and private collections. MAR also has its own school, the Escola do Olhar (School of Vision).
The museum has a nice roof top bar and restaurant.
Modern Art Museum (Museu de Arte Moderna – MAM)
Av. Infante Dom Henrique, 85 – Parque do Flamengo. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 12 am to 6 pm. Tel: 3883-5600.
MAM, as it is known in Rio, has bounced back well after a fire destroyed nearly 90% of its priceless collection in 1978. In 1993 it received much of the collection of Gilberto Chateaubriand, and in 2005 the collection of Joaquim Paiva.
It annually hosts a number of outstanding temporary exhibits as well as displaying many of the 6,400 items from its new archives that include the work of the most important Brazilian artists and photographers of the 20th century.
Little House in Heaven (Chácara do Céu) / Park of Ruins (Parque das Ruinas)
Rua Murtinho Nobre, 93 – Santa Teresa. Open Wednesday to Sunday from noon to 5 pm. Tel: 3970-1126.
The Chácara do Céu (Little House in Heaven) is a charming little museum hidden away in the heights of Santa Teresa. Opened in 1972, Chácara do Céu was the residence of the late Brazilian industrialist, Raymundo Ottoni de Castro Maya, who left the house, along with the Açude Museum and his magnificent art collection, to the nation. The house, which was built in 1957, has been preserved as it was when Castro Maya lived and this is what gives the place its charm.
The collection on display covers more than 350 items from an archive of over 1,500 that includes paintings, sculptures, silverware, furniture and other objects that reflect the good taste of their owner. Outstanding amongst the collection are works by Candido Portinari, one of Brazil’s most important artists, Monet, Matisse, Picasso and Salvador Dali.
Açude Museum (Museu do Açude)
Estrada do Açude, 764 – Alto da Boa Vista. Open Wednesday through Monday from 11am to 5pm. Tel: 3433-4990.
The sister museum to Chácara do Céu is the Açude Museum in Alto da Boa Vista. Just the house and gardens, most of which is made up of Atlantic Rain Forest, are worth a visit but a stop is a must if you are in the area. Normally the themes of the exhibitions are tied into the flora and fauna of the Rain Forest.
A delightful way to see the museum is the monthly brunch that takes place on the last Sunday of the month. Reservations on 3433-4990.
International Naïve Art Museum (Museu Internacional de Arte Naïf do Brasil)
Rua Cosme Velho, 561 – Cosme Velho. Open Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 6pm. Tel: 2505-8612.
Housed in a colonial mansion and inaugurated in 1995, the museum boasts one of the world’s largest collections of naïve and primitive art. The 8,000 pieces in the archives cover the works of artists from 130 countries including one from Iran that dates from 1327.
The museum is located close to the station from which the train leaves to climb Corcovado and has a nice gift shop for souvenirs.
Galeria do Lago (Museu da República)
Rua do Catete, 153 – Catete. Next to the Catete metro station. Open from 11 am until 5pm. (Closed on Monday). Tel: 3826-7984.
Estrada do Pontal, 3295 – Barra da Tijuca. Open Tuesday to Sunday 9.30am to 5pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10.30am to 6pm. Tel: 2490-2429.
Tucked away at the very end of Barra da Tijuca, close to Recreio dos Bandeirantes, is the Casa do Pontal which houses what is probably the best and most complete collection of one of Brazil’s most popular pottery and folk art forms.
The collection of over 8,000 pieces by over 200 artists is laid out throughout the house and themes used to group the works. Among the themes are professional activities; circle of life; Brazilian celebrations; folklore; music; the circus; games; carnival; sand; Christ; religion; and even a selection of nearly 30 cribs.
The museum hopes to open a new branch in the port district of Rio prior to the 2016 Olympics.
Imperial Palace (Paço Imperial)
Praça XV de Novembro, 48 – Centro. Open Tuesday to Sunday from noon to 6 pm. Tel: 2215-2622.
Once the Imperial Palace, the Paço Imperial, which has played such an important part as a backdrop to the history of Brazil, is today one of the city’s most important and prestigious cultural centres. As a cultural centre most of the exhibitions are temporary, but of a high standard.
Rua Primeiro de Março, 66 – Centro. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 9pm. Tel: 3808-2020.
As is fitting for a cultural centre that is supported by a bank, the CCBB’s permanent museum concerns itself with money and finance in all its forms. The museum is just a small part of the activities of Rio’s most important cultural centre, which has a full calendar of temporary exhibitions, most of which are of a notably high standard.
Casa França Brasil (France-Brazil House)
Centro Cultural Correios (Post Office Cultural Center)
Instituto Moreira Salles (Moreira Salles Institute)
Art for Art’s Sake – The Commercial Galleries
Brazil has a vibrant art world that can also be found and admired in the small commercial galleries in Rio.
The art of Brazil is something to be appreciated but above all enjoyed by the visitor. It is art that you may want to buy as a reminder of time spent in Brazil and Rio. Leave the Great Masters to the formal galleries of Europe and the US; they are not of the Brazilian spirit.
We have asked our good friends at Ronya, one of Brazil’s leading experts in sourcing, acquiring, and maintaining art, to come up with some suggestions of the commercial art galleries in Rio de Janeiro where you can find some of the best and most interesting contemporary and modern Brazilian art and discover new emerging talents.
Art at the Hippie Fair
If you see something you like at the Sunday Hippie Fair in Ipanema (Praça General Osório), or in any other street market, don’t be ashamed, it has happened to others before you.
The only criticism that can be levelled at the art to be found at the Hippie Fair or the other markets is that it is painting to formula. Basically, the customers at these fairs are visitors, not just foreign visitors, but visitors from all over Brazil, so it is likely that they are seeing the works for the first time as thousands have done before. The artists, therefore, produce scenes that have sold well in the past, scenes that have proven popular with the visitors that came before. Don’t misunderstand us, the artists are good, very good but they are also in business and they paint to demand.
So if you see a particular painting or piece of art that you like, and there is every chance that you will, buy it. The prices are not high and it is unlikely that you will see the likes of it hanging on your friends’ wall, unless, of course, they visited the Hippie Fair when they came to Rio and had the same taste as you!