“Los Borrachos” by Diego Velazquez[/caption]If I told you that I’m a great lover of Spanish art then I’m afraid I’d be lying. When I visit a new city I’m always keen on visiting its main architectural attractions and (more importantly) its sports venues. Unfortunately, I’ve never been a great fan of art galleries but my time in Spain has at least allowed me to develop a certain appreciation of the world of art thanks to the wealth of Spanish art on display in the country’s countless museums and galleries. Even the most indifferent of visitors could not fail to be impressed.
Many great artists have lived and worked in Spain including El Greco, Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí. Their works, along with masterpieces by other lesser known Spanish and foreign artists appear throughout the country in some of the world’s finest galleries as well as in small museums and churches nationwide.
Madrid’s Art Scene
Thanks to the Prado Museum, Madrid has long been established on the European art circuit yet this museum is only one point of what is known as Madrid’s ‘golden art triangle’. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is believed to be the only private collection in the world that compares with the British Royal Family’s art collection. The Reina Sofia is the national museum of 20th century art which is best known for it’s most famous exhibit, Picasso’s Guernica. Time permitting, a day excursion to Toledo is well worthwhile to see some of the great El Greco masterpieces.
Barcelona’s Art Scene
Although Barcelona is best known for its Gaudi architecture it is also home to some fairly outstanding galleries. The Picasso Museum is the city’s most visited gallery and contains one of the most extensive collections of the artist’s works in the world. A personal favourite is the National Art Gallery of Catalunya as much for the magnificent building in which it housed as for the collection itself. Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art has revitalised the central area of El Raval just off the Ramblas. An essential day excursion from Barcelona for every art lover is to the Dalí Museum in Figueres.
Spanish Art Beyond Madrid & Barcelona
Undoubtedly, the number one attraction on the Spanish art scene outside the two largest cities is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry’s architectural masterpiece which has helped transform the local economy of this formerly industrial city. Indeed the design of the Guggenheim is based on the shapes of a fish and a boat which depict the city’s historical past as a centre of shipbuilding and fishing.
Valencia is beginning to make a name for itself on the European art circuit and the Museo de Bellas Artes has long been considered one of Spain’s finest galleries. Seville has a wealth of artistic treasures with the Museo de Bellas Artes the main attraction thanks to the its display of works by local 17th century masters Murillo and Zurbarán.
Also in Andalucia the Picasso Museum has been built inside the artist’s birthplace in Malaga. Further north in deepest Extremadura, the National Museum of Roman Art in Merida is one of the finest collections of Roman art that you’ll come across outside Rome.
And what about cave paintings? In Altamira (Cantabria) there are cave paintings of animals which date back to 12,000BC whilst the lesser known and unspoilt Cueva de la Pileta near Ronda is a ‘must see’ if you’re in the area (though few people go there!). There’s no end to the artistic treasures that abound in Spain and no matter which cultural centres you head for in search of masterpieces, you’re unlikely to be disappointed.