With families, there is usually one child that steals the spotlight. Even without trying to, this child becomes the center of attention and the star of the show. As a result, other siblings are often relegated to second class status. We know they exist but can overlook their talents. In the case of Madrid, one could argue the Prado is Spain’s “first son.”
If that’s the case, then the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia is clearly Madrid’s “other art museum.” In fact, there are probably several that fall into “little sister/second child” status, but Reina Sofia has one very special difference that places it above the rest. This beautiful, sleekly designed museum is almost exactly across the street from Madrid’s Atoche train station. It is in Madrid’s former general hospital, and as far as museums go, it has a very good layout. The hospital was built in the 18th century, which gives the museum a very different vibe compared to the Prado. It’s very spacious with massive windows along the corridors so you can look out at the small garden inside the courtyard.
The Reina Sofia’s crowning gem—that “one very special difference” I mentioned earlier—is mostly known for Picasso’ masterpiece Guernica. Picasso created the work in response to the Franco’s horrific bombing of the village of Guernica, in northern Spain. The village was bombed in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War and the painting shows the horror and suffering of individuals, particularly women and children. Much of the art of this period uniquely began to focus not on the famous generals or heros, but instead on the suffering and misfortunes of the average person. The piece is credited with bringing significant attention to the War and went on to become a major anti-war symbol. This is obviously not even an abridged history of the painting, but I will say it is very impressive when you see it in front of you. It is the only area of the museum where you are not allowed to take photographs. The exhibit goes into lots of background on the painting, its creation, etc., including all the studies and background information (note: the guided tour is well worth paying for just to hear about the history of Picasso’s painting Guernica).
In case i didn’t make it clear, Guernica is massive, significantly larger than i expected. What’s fascinating about the painting is that it is its own exhibit. The adjoining room contains sketches and drafts of the various studies of figures Picasso painted as he considered the final painting. It never occurred to me that a painter like Picasso would consider every element—not only of what to include, but the position of the horse’s tongue, a woman’s eyes, as well as when and where to use color. Of course, that makes perfect sense, now. But the exhibition illustrates Picasso’s process, which is fascinating in and of itself. I guess i assumed he had a vision in mind, sat down in front of a canvas and presto! Lesson learned.
Most people blow into the Renia Sofia, storm the corridors for the Guernica and then leave. I’m telling you right now, that is a huge mistake. It is a shame because the museum has so much more to offer—Mr. Os actually liked it more than the Prado, because it covers a broader range of painters and time periods, including some interesting works by Dali. Most people are familiar with his surreal melting clocks. The works here go beyond that and demonstrates a very creative, albeit dark, nightmarish and twisted mind. I’m just saying, i think the guy may have had issues.
For whatever reason, I had the strong impression that many consider this museum a second class citizen, something that could be missed. It’s not. Yes, the Guernica is alone worth the visit, but you’ll miss a lot of other masterpieces and an all around fantastic museum.
Travel tip: Again, 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.
Travel tip especially for the Reina Sofia: Because it is so close to the train station, if you’re coming in to Madrid via train, store your bags at the train station and take a short, carefree walk up to the museum. It will save you a trip from wherever you’re staying. In fact, you could hit several of the biggest museums, then return to the train station and grab a cab or metro.
Photography note: Photography and video recordings of the Guernica are not permitted. The museum is very strict about this. But otherwise, click away. However, in this and all museums be aware that they are VERY STRICT about no flash. My camera would reset based on light and when it happened by mistake security appeared out of nowhere.