10 Best Art Museums and Art Centers in the Spanish Capital
By Sarah Rogers
Buenos Aires Local Expert
Artists and art aficionados will be pleased to find that art is alive and well in Madrid, a great center of culture and the arts. Here art is fostered, appreciated and preserved. The jewel in the Spanish capital’s artistic crown, however, is as the home of some of the best museums in the world. In fact, with world-class facilities and impressive art collections, Madrid’s art museums are simply second to none.
Step inside the wide galleries of the Prado Museum or the richly decorated rooms of the National Museum of Romanticism and you will soon understand Madrid’s allure as a city that understands both art and history. Only in Madrid can you see Pablo Picasso’s original and powerful anti-war work, Guernica; Bosch’s striking triptych The Garden of Delights; and Francisco Goya’s The Third of May 1808. These epic works reveal humanity’s baser instincts, but also offer us hope.
From paintings and sculpture to clothes and furniture, Madrid’s museum collections display remarkable depth and breadth into Spanish and international fine arts and decorative arts through the ages. Whether you fancy a tour of medieval art or else something quite contemporary, you will certainly find it in Madrid, a true capital of the arts.
10 Museo del Traje
A relative newcomer to Madrid's scene, the Clothing Museum opened in 2004. It's a real treat for anyone interested in dressmaking, tailoring and clothing through the ages. The chronologically arranged collection spans over 160,000 garments, the very oldest of which are some precious fragments of Coptic cloth and Hispano-Muslim pieces. The rotating displays cover the last six centuries of Spanish fashion, including a few fascinating monographic rooms devoted to luminaries, such as the haute couturier Balenciaga or Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo, whose clients included Isadora Duncan. METRO: Moncloa (91-550-4700)
9 CaixaForum Madrid
A contemporary art museum and cultural center located on the Paseo del Prado near the Prado Museum, CaixaForum Madrid features temporary art exhibits from both Spanish and international artists as well as events, workshops, lectures and courses on a variety of topics (in Spanish). The building once housed an electric power station before finding new life at the hands of Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron. One of CaixaForum Madrid's most intriguing features is the vertical garden on the adjoining wall out front. CaixaForum Madrid also has a good restaurant on the top floor and a book shop on the main floor. (913 30 73 00)
8 Museo Nacional de Artes Decorativas
Founded in 1912 to foster industrial arts education in Spain, Madrid's National Museum of Decorative Arts was inspired by similar museums in London and Paris. Today the museum has a wonderful collection on display of textiles, furniture, porcelain, ceramics, iron work and other artistic industrial creations from different countries. There is also a large contingent of decorative art from Asia. Interestingly, the bulk of the collection was assembled by King Carlos in the 18th century. The National Museum of Decorative Arts focuses primarily on research though. Its library contains 20,000 volumes on design, art history, decorative arts and museum studies. The museum also regularly holds activities for children and adults (in Spanish). (915 32 64 99)
7 Museo Sorolla
Picture a room untouched for nearly 100 years. Unfinished paintings and abandoned paint brushes still stained with paint clutter the room. This is what you will find at the Sorolla Museum (Museo Sorolla). After the artist Joaquín Sorolla died, his mansion home was dedicated as a memorial to him and turned into a museum tracing his life's work. The museum wing contains portraits of aristocrats and commoners alike and beautiful landscapes of beach scenes. Sorolla is oft considered "the Spanish Impressionist" for the beautiful treatment of light in his paintings. The museum is closed on Mondays. METRO: Iglesia or Gregorio Marañón (91-310-1584)
6 National Museum of Romanticism
Madrid's National Museum of Romanticism wonderfully recreates the era of Spanish Romanticism (from 1814 to 1868), an intense cultural and intellectual movement that ushered in the modern age, with a collection of beautiful furniture, paintings (including works by Francisco Goya) and decorative objects, like jewels, ceramics and musical instruments. The pistol that writer Mariano Jose de Larra committed suicide with is also on display here. The museum's collections are housed in a former palace built in 1776 and located in what is known today as Madrid's Chueca neighborhood. Go past the museum gift shop and you'll find a charming little tea room. (914 48 10 45)
5 Museo Cerralbo
The 17th Marquis of Cerralbo's home was so beautiful inside and out that, after his death, it was named a museum. The 19th century palace of Italian architecture will take your breath away as you wander through the exquisite halls and beautifully landscaped garden. The Marquis of Cerralbo's home contains an extensive collection of art work that ranges from Spanish, French, and Italian paintings, all the way to the chandeliers that are suspended from the ceiling and the porcelain and pottery that decorate the home. The museum is closed on Mondays and on holidays. METRO: Plaza de Espana or Ventura Rodriguez (91-547-3646)
4 Museo Lázaro Galdiano
With 37 rooms to explore, you will have to set aside an entire day to tour the L�zaro Galdiano Museum (Museo L�zaro Galdiano). In 1947, the Navarrese editor and art critic bequeathed his massive art collection to the Spanish state, which turned it into a museum. In the midst of all the artwork, you will find authentic Byzantine jewelry and hand-woven clothes from the 1400's. The artwork displayed has magnificent specimens from the 15th to the 19th century and includes that of the great Spaniards, including El Greco, Vel�zquez, and Zurbar�n. English and Italian artists are also represented. METRO: Gregorio Mara��n (91-561-6084, 97-561-7793)
3 Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Named after Spain's current queen and housed in a former 18th century hospital, the Reina Sofia Museum features an impressive collection of 20th century and contemporary art with an emphasis on Spanish artists. It completes Madrid's well-known Golden Triangle of Art with the nearby Prado Museum and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. The Reina Sofia is best known as the home of Pablo Picasso's famous and larger-than-life 1937 painting Guernica, created in response to the bombing and destruction of the Spanish town of the same name. In addition to Picasso, the collection includes works by artists such as Salador Dal�, Joan Mir�, Juan Gris, Francis Picabia, Fernand Leger, Georges Braque and Diego Rivera. (917 74 10 00)
2 Museo Thyssen Bornemisza
Along with the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum forms what is known as the Golden Triangle of Art -- Madrid's tour de force in the art world. Housed in Villahermosa Palace, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum contains different collections ranging from the 13th to the 20th centuries, including Italian Renaissance, French Impressionist and 19th century American paintings. The impressive private collection was leased by the aristocratic Thyssen-Bornemisza family to the Spanish state and is considered to complete the gaps in the Prado and the Reina Sofia's more focused collections. Simply put, the museum is a must see when in Madrid! (902 76 05 11)
1 Museo del Prado
One of the world's most celebrated museums, Madrid's Prado Museum is an extensive first-class art gallery containing 16th to 19th century European art. The emphasis is naturally on Spanish art as the Prado's collection was originally composed of Spain's Royal Art Collection. Come to walk the high-ceilinged halls primarily built in the 19th century and reflect on masterpieces by Goya, El Greco, Vel�zquez, Bosch, Tiziano, Tintoretto and others. As the gallery is so large, it would be easy to spend days immersed in the Prado, so if you're short on time be sure to strategize well and hit the highlights like Vel�zquez's Las Meninas, Goya's two Maja paintings and Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights. (34 913 30 28 00)
About Sarah Rogers
Born and raised in northern California, Sarah grew up to become an expat, traveler and wordsmith. She lived for seven years in Madrid, Spain and now calls Buenos Aires, Argentina home. She has had the privilege of visiting 15 countries and working as a writer, editor and translator doing what she loves best: facilitating intercultural communication through the written word.
Read more about Sarah Rogers here.