The city of Barcelona is a treasure trove of acclaimed art institutions such as the Picasso Museum, MACBA and MNAC art museums which house works by many of Spain’s master artists. Other highlights include the Fundació Joan Miró which honours Catalan surrealism together with the Antoni Tàpies Foundation which showcases the abstract painter’s works. So if you’re planning a short visit to Catalonia this article will direct you to some of the best art galleries in Barcelona.
Picasso Museum Barcelona (Museu Picasso)
Address: Carrer de Montcada 15-23
The Picasso Museum is located in five adjoining Gothic palaces in Barcelona’s El Born neighborhood, not far from the cathedral. It houses an extensive collection of Pablo Picasso’s early work from his formative years in the city. The collection of almost 300 paintings was donated by Picasso’s secretary and spans the artist’s life from age 14 to 23 in Barcelona. It is displayed chronologically over multiple floors, providing an intimate view of Picasso’s early development. A visit to this world-class gallery is one of the best things to do in Barcelona for visitors to the city.
The rooms guide you through different phases and styles, from his academic training to youthful realism, melancholy Blue Period, the warmer hues of the Rose Period and finally his playful late years on the French Riviera.
While later Cubist and Surrealist masterpieces are found in Paris, London and beyond, the Barcelona museum lets you appreciate Picasso’s roots.
Getting There: The Picasso Museum is located in the El Born district and the closest metro station is Jaume I (Line 4). As one of Barcelona’s most visited tourist attractions you can expect long queues to get in so buying tickets in advance is strongly recommended and allows you to skip the line.
Must-See Exhibits at the Picasso Museum?
Visitors to the Picasso Museum in Barcelona are strongly advised to move through the rooms chronologically in order to fully appreciate the artist’s early development. These are set out as follows:
Early Realism: (Rooms 1-2) Self-portraits and family portraits from Picasso’s adolescence showcase remarkable skill at a young age. His technical prowess is already evident in the detailed brushwork, texturing and use of colour.
Developing Talent: (Room 3) His academic studies and early major religious paintings like First Communion employ a conventional 19th century style. But hints of his emerging talent show through.
Early Independence: (Room 4) Here we see Picasso rejecting his formal training and forging his own artistic identity. Portraits of bohemian friends in Barcelona and his work for the hangout Els Quatre Gats display his increasing confidence.
Blue Period: (Rooms 8-9) The blue and muted tones of these paintings reflect Picasso’s melancholy after his friend’s suicide and his own poverty while living in Paris in the early 1900s. But the emotional resonance of works like The Forsaken reveals his deep empathy for outcasts and underdogs.
Rose Period: (Room 9) Though the museum has few actual Rose Period pieces, the pinks and oranges of this painting indicate Picasso’s happier mindset around 1904-1907, inspired by his lover Fernande Olivier.
Later Years: (Rooms 12-16) Vibrantly colourful, Mediterranean-themed paintings from his final decades living in southern France feature a sunnier, more playful Picasso experimenting with ceramics and printmaking.
Top 10 Masterpieces 0f the Picasso Museum
Whilst many of Picasso’s works in the Museu Picasso de Barcelona may be considered to be masterpieces, the following ten works are the ones to look out for if you’re short of time:
- Self Portrait (1896)
- The First Communion (1896)
- Science and Charity (1897)
- Menu of Els Quatre Gats (1900)
- Still Life (1901)
- The Rooftops of Barcelona (1903)
- The Dead Woman (1903)
- Harlequin (1917)
- Royan (1939)
- Las Meninas (1957)
National Art Gallery of Catalunya (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – MNAC)
Address: Palau Nacional- Parc de Montjuïc
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) was established in 1990 by the Catalan government and opened to the public in 1995. The museum is housed in the Palau Nacional, a huge building constructed for the 1929 International Exposition.
The MNAC contains one of the most important collections of Romanesque art in the world as well as an extensive collection of Gothic art from the 12th to 15th centuries. Other highlights include Renaissance and Baroque works, modern art from the 19th and 20th centuries and a collection of photography.
Getting There: The nearest metro stop is at Placa Espanya using the Green Line L3 or the Red Line L1.
Must-See Exhibits at the MNAC
The Romanesque Art section features stunning mural paintings from churches around Catalonia dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Masterpieces include the apse fresco from Sant Climent de Taüll and the Christ in Majesty painting from Sant Sadurní de Rotgers.
The Gothic Art section contains altarpieces, paintings, sculptures and reliquaries. Major works include the Descent from the Cross by Bartolomé Bermejo, the Virgin of Mossen Francesc Martorell and the altarpiece of the Convent of Pedralbes.
The Renaissance and Baroque Art section displays paintings and sculptures from the 16th-18th centuries. Highlights are The Saint Paul by El Greco and still life paintings by Spanish artists like Juan Sánchez Cotán.
The Modern Art section covers 19th and 20th century works. It includes Catalan modernisme, surrealism, Dadaism and more. Featured artists are Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Antoni Tàpies and Joan Miró.
The Photography Collection contains over a million images spanning photographic history since 1839. It offers a survey of photographers from Nadar to Man Ray, Brassaï and Cartier-Bresson.
The MNAC provides an extensive overview of Catalan art and beyond, from the Romanesque era to avant-garde movements of the 20th century. Its diverse collections make it one of Spain’s top art museums.
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art – Museu d’Art Contemporani (MACBA)
Address: Plaça dels Àngels, 1
The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) opened its doors in 1995 in the El Raval district. The museum is dedicated to contemporary art created after 1945. Its collections focus on post-war painting and sculpture generated in Catalonia and across Spain.
The museum building was designed by American architect Richard Meier. Its minimalist white design with open courtyards contrasts with the historic architecture around it. MACBA also features a library, archives, auditorium and public square.
Must-See Exhibits at the MACBA
The permanent collection displays over 5,000 works from the second half of the 20th century to today. It includes paintings, sculptures, photography, installations, video art and more.
Highlights are avant-garde pieces by Catalan and Spanish artists such as Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso and Eduardo Chillida. Other represented artists are Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Bruce Nauman and Joseph Beuys.
MACBA also has an extensive photography collection. Key photographers include Joan Colom, Francesc Català-Roca, Chema Madoz and Albert Serra.
The Capella MACBA is an exhibition space connected to the main museum. It hosts temporary shows throughout the year focused on contemporary creators.
MACBA regularly rotates works from its permanent collection. The museum also organizes temporary exhibitions covering contemporary themes and art movements. These shows often feature emerging local and international artists.
Through its diverse collection and programming, MACBA provides an overview of contemporary art from the mid-20th century to today with a focus on Catalan and Spanish creativity.
Getting There: There are a choice of nearby Metro stops as follows: L1, L2 (Universitat) and L3 (Catalunya or Liceu)
Joan Miró Foundation – Fundació Joan Miró
Address: Parc de Montjuïc
The Fundació Joan Miró is a museum dedicated to showcasing the works of renowned Catalan artist Joan Miró. It opened in 1975 in the Montjuïc area of Barcelona, near the site of the 1929 International Exposition. The museum was designed by Miró’s close friend and architect Josep Lluís Sert. It houses the single largest collection of Miró’s works, comprising over 14,000 pieces that he donated. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, textiles, drawings and prints.
Getting There: The Fundació Joan Miró is located on Montjuïc hill which can be reached by buses 55 and 150 and on the Montjuïc Funicular.
Must-See Exhibits at the Fundació Joan Miró
The permanent collection displays pivotal works from Miró’s entire career, starting with his Surrealist paintings from the 1920s. Major paintings include The Tilled Field, Catalan Peasant in Revolt and the triptych Bleu I, II, III.
The museum showcases Miró’s experimentation across media, including his ceramic murals, textile art and large-scale sculptures. Examples are the ceramic Wall of the Moon and Wall of the Sun and the multimedia painting The Magic of Color.
The museum also manages the Taller Sert, Miró’s preserved studio on the premises where he worked until his death in 1983. With its unparalleled collection, the Fundació Joan Miró allows visitors to explore Miró’s stylistic evolution and his lasting impact on 20th century avant-garde art.
Fundació Antoni Tàpies
Address: Carrer d’Aragó 255
The Fundació Antoni Tàpies is a cultural centre and museum dedicated primarily to the life and works of the painter Antoni Tàpies. The foundation was established in 1984 by Antoni Tàpies himself with the aim of promoting the study and knowledge of modern and contemporary art. It opened its doors to the public in June 1990.
The Fundació Antoni Tàpies combines the organization of temporary exhibitions, symposia, lectures and film seasons with a range of publications to accompany the activities and periodic shows of Tàpies’ work. The foundation owns one of the most complete collections of Tàpies’ work, mostly made up of donations by Antoni and Teresa Tàpies.
Getting There: The Fundació Antoni Tàpies is located in the building of the former Montaner i Simon publishing house which was constructed between 1880 and 1885 in the early days of the Catalan Modernisme movement. The nearest metro stop is Passeig de Gràcia which is served by lines L2, L3 and L4.
Must-See Exhibits at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies
The Fundació Antoni Tàpies houses a wide range of works by Antoni Tàpies, covering all periods of the artist’s work, from the early works of the 1940s to his most recent works. Major well-known works are included from throughout his artistic life. The foundation also organizes changing exhibitions featuring various other artists and is home to the Library of the Fundació Antoni Tàpies which houses a huge archive of Tàpies’ work.