Art off the Beaten Path: Madrid Art Museums

Spain, Tours & Attractions — By on August 25, 2010 at 12:00 pm

By Briana Palma
Special to the Lost Girls

Anyone visiting Madrid will certainly want to pass through its three big museums, the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza, which display works from the world’s most influential artists, such as Picasso, Monet and Velázquez.

But the richness of the Spanish capital’s art scene extends far beyond this so-called “golden triangle” (the three institutions are located in the same part of the city). Madrid is home to many small galleries and museums where you can experience all kinds of extraordinary artwork, from painting and sculpture to fashion and jewelry, while also avoiding long lines and costly entrance fees.

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With a garden and quiet country-style house, the Museo Sorolla undoubtedly claims a spot on the list of Madrid’s most tranquil and lovely places. The small museum offers an escape from the feverish urban activity outside and allows visitors to view the work of one of the country’s most beloved artists, Joaquin Sorolla, who is best known for his luminous seascapes and touching scenes of family life. You can explore the various stages of the Valencia-born painter’s career and take in the beauty of signature pieces like “Paseo a orillas del mar,” or “Walk on the beach,” a depiction of his wife and eldest daughter strolling along the sand in breezy white dresses.

Just a short walk away, under the bridge of Calle de Juan Bravo, you’ll find the Museo Arte Público, an outdoor abstract sculpture museum. The nearly 40-year-old space aims to bring modern art into the public consciousness by showing off creations from some of Spain’s most renowned sculptors. The 17-piece collection includes Joan Miró’s “Mère Ubu,” a woman-bird bronze in the Catalan artist’s signature fantastical esthetic. Internationally recognized Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida also contributed to the exhibition with his 6.5-ton concrete work, “La sirena varada,” or “The beached mermaid,” which suspends from the bridge and joined the museum six years after its opening due to safety concerns.

Also located in this upscale neighborhood of Madrid is the FundaciónLázaro Galdiano, which, like the Museo Sorolla, once served as the residence of its namesake. Aristocratic publisher and avid art collector José Lázaro Galdiano left his vast collection to the Spanish state upon his death in 1947. Now more than 12,500 pieces of art comprise the magnificent museum, which reopened in 2004 after three years of renovation. In the mansion you’ll come across everything from paintings by Velázquez and Goya to ancient Roman sculptures and exquisite woman’s jewelry.

For a more detailed look into the daily life of 19th-century Spanish aristocrats like Lázaro Galdiano, you can travel back in time at the Museo Nacional del Romanticismo. This house-museum combines various facets of the Romantic era, including art, science, history and social customs. Each of the mansion’s rooms not only contains fascinating artifacts but also an explanation of the space’s original purpose. The visit includes a walk through a ballroom that boasts lavish tapestries, instruments and portraits. You’ll also see the children’s playroom, complete with time-period toys like porcelain dolls and a large play car, as well as the man’s office with its stately desk and antique calculator.

Another institution with an unconventional take on Spanish history is the Museo del Traje, the city’s costume museum. The permanent collection of this fashion-lover’s paradise showcases clothing and accessories from the 1500s to the present day. The items vary from the blue and gold robes of an 18th century military order to flapper-style party dresses from the Roaring Twenties. While the collection as a whole proves captivating, it also features some standout pieces like the black, satin gown that Audrey Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Mariano Fortuny’s influential form-fitting Delphos gown.

If these museums aren’t enough to satisfy your craving for art, don’t worry. In the Spanish capital you’ll also find a handful of financial institutions that regularly host impressive (and free!) exhibitions and special events. Through December 26 Spanish bank La Caixa is showcasing a series of photographs, drawings and unseen video footage related to the life and work of Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini. And in mid-November Caja Madrid, in coordination with the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, will inaugurate Jardines Impresionistas (Impressionist Gardens) an exhibition featuring both the leading figures of the artistic movement as well as its precursors.

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