{Spain} Madrid: The Big Three

May 14, 2016

Spain

100 Museums Challenge: Museum No.44, 45 & 46

When I mentioned I was heading to Madrid to speak at a conference and would have some additional time for sightseeing, and asked what ‘must see’ recommendations people had for me, I received several recommendations for ‘The Big Three’: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen. I wasn’t sure if I would have time to see all three, especially as there were some other ‘hidden gems’ I had my eye on, but the Reina Sofia was just a block away from the conference venue and I was given the morning off (my presentation wasn’t until the afternoon and the morning was all in Spanish, which I couldn’t understand), I decided it would make a good starting point. It being a Thursday morning, I didn’t have to queue at all for my tickets, and when I discovered they actually offer a ‘Paseo del Arte’ ticket, which gets you entry to all three at a discount, I decided to just go for it. Of course, I ended up visiting the other two as well the next day.

No.44 – Museo Reina Sofia

Reina Sofia 03

Museo Reina Sofia – or ‘Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía’ to give it its full name – opened it 1992 and is Spain’s national museum for 20th century art, including painting, sculpture and multimedia exhibits. It is named after Queen Sofia, who was Queen consort of Spain until 2014. The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art, with Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Joan Miró taking their place alongside Spanish artists that are less well known internationally. If you want to avoid the crowds, I found the 4th floor pleasantly quiet and peaceful.

Reina Sofia 01

Reina Sofia 02

However, the museum building itself is a worth the visit, characterised by wide open spaces and high ceilings centred around a beautiful sculpture garden. A lush oasis in the middle of the city. I found the corridors relatively easy to navigate and never once got lost, even without looking at my map. The glass elevators that run along the outside of the building give you some great views as you progress from floor to floor, and for more great views you mustn’t miss the terrace of the buildings’ extension, which comes complete with a rather bizarre pyramid of unicorn-like horned animals.

Reina Sofia 04

Reina Sofia 05

Museo Reina Sofia is open Wednesdays to Mondays (closed on Tuesdays). There is free entry to the permanent exhibitions in the evenings and on Sunday afternoons. Exact opening times and admission prices can be found on the museum website.

No.45 – Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Thyssen 04

The Thyssen Museum came the most highly recommended of all three, and having visited all three I can see why as it was by far my favourite. Not as big and airy as Reina Sofia, it none the less exuded and air of tranquility. Maybe it was the warmth of the salmon pink walls, maybe it was the fact it wasn’t overrun by groups of school children or noisy tourists, or maybe it was seeing a portrait of my history crush, King Henry VIII, as one of the first things, but there was just something about this art museum that clicked with me.

Thyssen 03

Thyssen 02

Named after its founder, the collection was started in the 1920s as a private collection and was once the second largest private collection in the world after the British Royal Collection. It was initially housed in the family estate in Switzerland, but later relocated to Spain, where the current museum opened its doors in 1992. From Old Masters, to 19th and 20th century paintings, the collection spans highlights of eight centuries of painting, as well as some North American paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, Cubist…whatever takes your fancy, you are likely to find it here, and the artists on show read like a ‘Who-is-Who’.

Thyssen 01

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is open daily, except for some public holidays, and there is free entry to the permanent exhibitions on Monday afternoons. Exact opening times and admission prices can be found on the museum website.

No.46 – Museo del Prado

Prado 02

I really wanted to like ‘the Prado’. It regularly features on lists of ‘the world’s top museums’ and is the jewel in Madrid’s museum crown. It features one of the world’s finest collections of European art, dating from the 12th century to the early 19th century, based on the former Spanish Royal Collection, and is apparently the best single collection of Spanish art. Highlights include El Greco, Titian, Rubens, Hieronymus Bosch, and Goya as the single most represented artist. All in all, it’s considered one the greatest museums of art in the world

Prado 01

Maybe I was there at the wrong time of day (Friday afternoon, though it wasn’t super crowded, I didn’t even have to queue to get in), maybe I was suffering from museum fatigue at that point (it was only day two of three days of conference/ sightseeing), or maybe I was just in the wrong frame of mind. But I found it too big, too busy, too confusing, too difficult to navigate. Even with a map I kept getting lost, and I’m a fairly good map reader. I was feeling thirsty, but the cafe only sold tiny bottles of juice at ridiculously high prices, even for a museum cafe. Overall, the visit put me in a really bad mood. I did get to see the new Goya rooms, which where, I grant, stunning. And seeing Bosch’s ‘El Jardín de las Delicias’ or Garden of Earthly Delights up close and personal was definitely a highlight. But in the end, I think I spent more time browsing the fantastic gift shops, selecting presents for my kids, than looking at art in the galleries. As one online travel guide to Madrid put it, “If you’re just going to visit the Prado once, it’s a good idea to prioritize and plan ahead so you don’t get lost in the plethora of paintings.” Maybe that’s where I went wrong.

Museo del Prado is open daily, except for some public holidays, and there is free entry to the permanent exhibitions in the evenings. Exact opening times and admission prices can be found on the museum website.

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