The Prado Museum (02) was visited by 2.7 million people in 2015, more than the entire population of Paris. Along with the Reina Sofía Art Centre and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, all in Madrid, it is the star of Spain’s museum offerings. Although it is far from receiving the number of visitors that the number one in the world, the Louvre, can boast, it is one of the best in terms of the relevance of its permanent collection, which includes the main works by universal Spanish artists such as Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez.
The extraordinary wealth of its collections includes four centuries of Spanish, Italian and flamenco art, among others: Tiziano, Tiépolo, Rafael, Rubens, Rembrandt, El Greco and El Bosco (01), through to Mengs, Correggio and many more.
From Altamira to Goya
The Caves of Altamira in Cantabria –named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985– keeps the traces of the earliest settlers in cave painting form, between 35,000 and 13,000 BC. There is also a reproduction at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid, which was recently refurbished. This museum, together with the Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, among others, displays pieces by Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman and Visigoth artists.
Cathedrals and monasteries across Spain are home to almost two hundred religious art museums, containing everything from altarpieces and religious ornaments to religious imagery, from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period, for instance the Museum of Holy Week in Valladolid (03), Museum of Zamora or the museums of the great Spanish gothic cathedrals like Burgos, León, Seville or Segovia.
From El Greco to Sorolla
Toledo is home to the El Greco Museum. El Greco was one of the great masters of the Spanish renaissance. The museum’s creation in 1911 was the initiative of the Marquis of the Vega-Inclán, who also founded the Museum of Romanticism in Madrid. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has a noteworthy collection of Spanish impressionists such as Mariano Fortuny, Darío de Regoyos, Ignacio Zuloaga and Joaquín Sorolla, as well as a monographic museum in Madrid.
From Picasso to Dalí
The great geniuses of the 20th century, like Pablo Picasso (04) (Cubism), Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró (Surrealism) are well represented in Spanish museums: the famous Guernica by Picasso, a piece in protest against the Civil War of Spain (1936-39) is the flagship piece of the Reina Sofía Art Centre in Madrid, although his extensive oeuvre is also exhibited at the Picasso Museums of Barcelona and Malaga. Dalí’s creations can be found in Catalonia (Figueres Theatre and Museum, in Girona, Púbol and Portlligat Museum-Houses, Perrot-Moore Art Centre in Cadaqués, the Museum of Montserrat and the Regional Museum of Maresme), but also in the Thyssen and Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Juan March Foundation Museum of Contemporary Art in Palma de Mallorca. The Foundation also directs the Spanish Abstract Art Museum, located in the Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) of Cuenca, with paintings and sculptures of Millares, Tàpies, Torner, Rueda, Saura or the founder Fernando Zóbel, among other.
Building as art
Special mention is owed to the museums of contemporary art in which the separation between vessel and content is blurred, forming a whole in which the building is conceived as one more work of art. This is the case of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, by Frank O. Gehry, which is home to works by artists such as Chillida, Tàpies, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons (05); the MUSAC in León (Mies van der Rohe Award) or the ARTIUM in Vitoria, which exhibits works by artists such as Miquel Barceló, Antonio Saura and Jorge Oteiza, as well as pieces by Dalí, Miró and Rafael Canogar.
It is also worth mentioning the Valencia Institute of Modern Art (IVAM in Spanish), which has a considerable space set aside for photography and graphic design, with works by Constantin Brancusi, Man Ray and Robert Capa.