One of Spain’s main attractions when it comes to art, the Prado, rivals the Louvre. The absolutely massive collection is jaw dropping and foot aching. A serious art lover could easily spend a week here. Literally, seven days straight.
Travel tip: Museum’s in Spain are typically free of charge for select hours, or days each week. Although sometimes it’s only one day a month. But seeing as costs range between 8-20 euro, it’s worth checking. “Free” hours vary from city to city and museum to museum so it’s best to check their website. Another tip, if you aren’t interested in free hours, you can reserve tickets online to beat long lines. In some cases (like The Picasso Museum in Barcelona) it’s well worth the effort.
The general collection at the Prado is currently free from 6:00 – 8:00 pm. The lines during these hours are long, but not insurmountable.. Also, they move fast and art lover or not, you do not want to miss the Prado.
Spain’s most famous artists with prominent collections when we visited were Goya and Velázquez. Goya is famous for his paintings that depict the Spanish Civil War, particularly two, named May 2 and May 3. I’m not an art major so i’m not even going to attempt to use the proper terminology. Suffice to say that it’s worth your time, and it’s pretty cool when you realize that the famous piece of influential art you read about in books is hanging right in front of you. The works are interesting not only because they depict the painters version of key moments in history, but because many of the faces capture some very vivid emotion. You can feel the pain or anguish.
Also on display is Goya’s “dark paintings.” Named the Pinturas negras, these painting are displayed in one room. Compared to anything else I’ve ever seen of Goya’s (and really any artist) these are dramatically different, especially different from his works about the Spanish Civil War. They are done with dark colors (duh), lots of black, brown and instead of clear, vivid faces people are painted with severe distortions. The themes are also very macabre. Apparently he had painted these as murals in a house in which he lived outside of Madrid in his later years. They are intense, disturbing and depressing, and it’s clear he was working out a lot of issues—as murals, he’d never intended to show them publicly. Still, I’d strongly recommend them, if only to experience how much a painting can have an emotional impact. The Goya collection is not part of the Prado’s permanent exhibit. It is currently on display through early February 2014.
Velázquez is another well-known (and much-loved) Spanish painter from the Baroque era, who local lore has it, despised the royal family that commissioned much of his work. I loved this aspect of his paintings of the royals. If you look closely at his portraits, you can almost see his contempt—which didn’t seem all that subtle to me, actually. Many of the family members are not exactly presented in a favorable way. For example, the women are often painted with shadows and colors that make their faces look somewhat distorted. And he really gives you a feel for the famous “Hapsburg jaw” which is a very pronounced lower jaw that juts out. It was the result of too much inbreeding.
One thing NOT TO MISS…If you are traveling on to Barcelona on your trip across Spain, and plan to see the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, it is VERY important that you view Velázquez’ masterpiece las meninas at the Prado. Really study it, and if you can hang out until an English-speaking tour guide stops by, it’s worth listening to, and it will enhance your appreciation for Picasso’s re-interpretation of the painting. I was fascinated to see the process of how Picasso worked, by how he broke down the masterpiece, studied the different elements and then reinterpreted it. Mr. Os’ mind was so blown that he needed a vermut afterwards. Or, at least that’s what he said.
When you get home, it’s inevitable that people will ask if you went to the Prado. Even if you don’t love art, i do think this museum should be on your short list. And if you only do one (there are two you shouldn’t miss in Madrid) this would be the choice. There are others you can skip (trust me, i will get to those) but this one is not on that list.