Madrid is home to some of Spain's most famous masterpieces and boasts an impressive collection of notable works from across Europe. With just one day to catch up on my art history, here's how I made the most of it...
Madrid's main national art museum is the Museo del Prado which features European art from the 12th to 19th centuries. It's a busy tourist hot spot, and since we were on a deadline, we opted to purchase tickets in advance and avoid the lines. Once you have your ticket, you can bypass the long wait in the heat and head straight into the galleries.
From now until October 5 2014, the Prado is hosting a temporary exhibition "El Greco and Modern Painting". If you happen to be in Madrid before it closes, it is definitely worth a visit. The exhibit highlights the influence Spanish Renaissance artist El Greco had on modern artists such as Chagall, Pollock, Picasso, Cezanne, and Manet. The exhibit is wonderfully curated, drawing clear parallels between the artists, and showcases the ways in which one man's work can influence a diversity of artists creating in different styles and developing new movements altogether.
Even if you can't make it to Madrid by the fall, I'd be very curious to see what the curators of the temporary exhibit wing put together next. And regardless of what surprises they may be dreaming up, the permanent collection is so full of classic masterpieces that it's always worth a visit.
The museum itself has done a great job of highlighting the pieces you're most likely to want to see. If, like me, you have limited time and a disinterest in seeing every liturgical painting in Spanish history, you'll need some help to navigate the museum's many galleries effectively. Pick up a map (essential considering the gallery layout and room numbers are not the most intuitive) and you'll find a list of the museum's most famous works complete with thumbnail pictures and their exact locations within the galleries. For those of you who like to plan even further in advance, the Prado's website offers three suggested guides of what to see based on how many hours you plan to spend in the museum. I never have that much forethought, but by following the thumbnail photos on my map, I was able to see everything I wanted and discovered some surprise gems along the way. In total, including the temporary exhibit, I spent about three and a half hours in the Prado. My personal highlights? Definitely the Goyas. The Third of May 1808, the lesser-known The Second of May 1808, and Saturn Devouring His Son are truly striking in person. Saturn Devouring His Son in particular prompted a visceral response in person that cannot be simulated by a slide in an art history lecture.
After all that time in the Prado, it's time for some modern and contemporary art, and the place to go is just a short walk away: the Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Spain's national museum dedicated to 20th century art. The Reina Sofia boasts free admission most days from 7pm-9pm (Sundays from 1:30pm-7pm; closed on Tuesdays). We arrived right around 7pm to face a long line, but don't let that discourage you, it moved quickly and I think we only waited about 5 minutes. The museum contains a mix of 20th century art forms including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, graphic art, sound art, and film.
The main attraction: Picasso's Guernica. Spain's contribution to the 1937 World Fair in Paris and Picasso's response to the bombing of the village of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, the painting has become a global symbol of war-time civilian sufferings. Even the painting's very residence in its home country is a political statement. After its unveiling in Paris, the painting was housed at the MoMA in New York City until arriving in Spain 1981. It was Picasso's stipulation that the masterpiece not reside in Spain until democracy was established in the country. It's definitely worth the trip to see this masterpiece by a Spanish painter about Spanish events finally at home in the Spanish capital.
For more information about two of Madrid's most important galleries visit:
Up next: A road-trip to Barcelona featuring the many castles of Aragon.