The Museums of Madrid

Admittedly, Jeff and I put off Spain. We thought, It’s only right there, we’ll get to it. Well, our clock is running out fast on our adventure overseas, and the time came to finally visit Spain. It was now or never.

For our Christmas adventure, we decided on four days in Madrid, three in Seville, and a quick 48 hours in Granada. Was it possible to get all three cities conquered in the time allotted? We were about to find out.

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We landed late on a Thursday in Madrid. The airport, while huge, was easy to navigate as we found our luggage and the bus that would take us to the Atocha bus depot. Our AirBnB was in the Cortes neighborhood, a quick quarter-mile from the station, and the cost was unbeatable at €5 per person to ride. We saw no need to spend the extra cash on a taxi. The drive was nice as it takes you through the city, so we got to survey the Christmas displays along the Ronda de Atocha and Paseo del Prado.

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We were so close to the “Triangle of Museums” that we made it our first priority the next morning. We first went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, but we saw that starting at 12pm, it was a free general entry. We decided to turn around and come back in a few hours. The next museum in the trifecta was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía where the famous Guernica is mounted.

Jeff isn’t a huge fan of modern art, and that is to say that he really doesn’t like it. I love it, so I could have stayed in that museum for hours admiring the unique and shocking displays that were sprinkled through the four floors of this massive institution. We certainly did stay for quite a while meandering through the labyrinth of hallways admiring the different works by the masters.

In some dark corners of white hallways, there was a classic film projected. My favorite corner was Rear Window with Spanish subtitles right next to a Mark Rothko painting. This was my sort of space with my sort of art.

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Guernica is mounted on the second floor, and as we made our way closer and closer to it, we saw various “post-scripts” to the massive work. They were sections pulled out or drafts of faces that Picasso had later done as additions to the work. I loved seeing that and knowing that even Picasso didn’t think his painting was finished. You turn a corner and there it is, taking up most of the wall and it’s quite impressive to see in person. Not like the Mona Lisa where you see it and you’re slightly deflated because of the size.

What I adored as well was there was a group of school children that couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old listening to their teacher talk about modern art. What an amazing school trip.

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We were not allowed to take photos of the painting, and there were two guards standing by the paintings side to make sure a rogue shot wasn’t taken, but check out this link for images and information on the famous work. The above clip is from Children of Men and the famous work is featured in this scene.

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After we finished with taking in as much modern art as we could, we found our way back to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for more art. It was now free and open to the public, so we followed the masses up the stairs, but not before we admired the Rodin sculptures, which are my personal favorite.

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After you get your fill of seductive and perfect white marble, you climb the stairs to the second level, and you’re thrust into a world of master painters: Picasso, Rubens, Raphael, Hopper. It was astounding to see all of these artworks together in this space. It was over-saturating.

We tried desperately to take it all in and appreciate each and every canvas, but after a while, it becomes mind-numbing and they all bleed together. Since we had gotten in for free, the other patrons were moving like a steady stream pushing us along like a herd of cows. It did make it difficult to stay at each work. But this was a space not to be missed.

My favorite paintings that I stared at longer than normal were the three Edward Hopper pieces. I love his style of realist but not photo-perfect. We saw “Hotel Room,” “Dead Tree and Side of Lombard House,” and “The Martha McKeen of Wellfleet.”

We turned a corner in the museum and I was slightly seduced by the sultry voice of Frank Sinatra. His Strangers in the Night was on repeat in a hidden back room. I walked through dozens of masterpieces to find it, and when I did, I was surprised. What stood in front of me was a recreation of a padded room and about a hundred car lights. It was a performance art piece that is to represent the city that never sleeps. Or at least, that’s what I picked up from hearing the same familiar notes over and over again.

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The last major museum in the Triangle of Art is the famous Prado Museum. Labeled the Louve of Madrid, this massive institution sits proudly right along a main drag on the East side of the city. Founded in 1819, the museum has about 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, and 8,200 drawings. It is impossible to see all of it in a day let alone just a couple of hours.

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Prices for the museum are usually €14 per person, but from 6-8p Monday through Saturday (5-7p on Sundays), you can get in for free. We showed up to the growing line about 10 minutes after 6p. The line wasn’t unmanageable, but I would recommend getting there before 6 to optimize your time inside.

We made it into the building about 630p and only had an hour and a half to walk through the labyrinth of hallways and artworks. They gave us a floor plan, and we were able to divide and conquer seeing the artworks we really wanted to see: Titan, Canaletto, Raphael, and Goya.

Between Picasso and Goya, Spain really celebrates their artists. Goya has his own wing in the Prado, and we made our way through looking at The Third of May works created in 1808. They were all representing the Spanish resistance during the Peninsular War. The works were devastating and beautiful (not pictured).

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By the time we quickly ran through as many hallways as we could, we were exhausted from the full day of art. But little did we know that this trifecta was not the end of our artistic tour through Madrid.

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If you adventure behind the Prado Museum a couple of blocks, you will find Parque de El Retiro. It’s a massive park that used to belong to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century. It’s about 350 acres of pathways, ponds, and galleries. We bundled up in our warmest clothing since it was quite chilly, and walked to the park. Within about 1000m, we heard three different musicians playing the same jazzy rendition of Jingle Bells. We were never far from the music and we had the jazzy flittings stuck in our heads for hours.

The main reason we went into the green was to see the Crystal Palace. The large, greenhouse looking structure sits just north of the center of the park, and it’s quite gorgeous. Inside, there were dozens of hanging objects in an exhibition by Danh Vo called Banish the Faceless/Reward Your Grace. It was mostly driftwood and bones with a hidden crucifix.

This is what the pamphlet said of the gallery:

In an empirical yet not deductive approach, the artist establishes connections between objects and ideas that open up new possibilities of seeing, collecting, presenting and implying new meanings that upset the predominant historical discourse.

It was quite beautiful to see what the objects and scattered images with the sheets of glass making them shadows in the sunlight.

We continued along the path to see the big lake or pond on the north side of the park. Along our way, we were very surprised to see an extension to the Reina Sofia Museum that sits in the city center. But what caught our eye more than the hidden gallery sandwiched between the trees was the artist’s name, Andrezej Wroblewski–our same surname on a large sign. We had to go inside.

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The gorgeous and massive space had a couple dozen paintings sprinkled throughout the white walls and hallways. Wroblewski was a well-known Polish artist that lived during WWII and the socialist takeover in Poland. His canvases had works on both sides creating a reverse and proper image of each piece.

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The works were really extraordinary. The communist/socialist politic bled through the paint in devastating ways. I wholly recommend checking out this small and hidden exhibit in the sister gallery to the famous museum. By the way, it is free to get in.

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We only saw the tip of Spanish art in Madrid, and we could have spent weeks going through each and every gallery, but as you can see, the museums deserve their own post.

Stay tuned next week for more of the things to do in the magical city of Madrid.

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