Museu Picasso

The Picasso Museum in Barcelona has got to be one of the most heavily trafficked attractions in Catalonia. The museum itself is located in the Old Town area, spanning a series of adjoining rooms. These rooms run across several houses described as “medieval palaces.” They didn’t strike me as palaces, but I supposed by European standards at the time these were quite large. I’d say they were mansions. But it’s what these mansions contain that makes the place a constant thrum.

When you visit this museum, don’t expect to see many works from Picasso’s blue or rose periods. But I promise, you will not be disappointed. There are only a few of those on display. You also won’t see what many consider his greatest single work, Guernica.

Picasso's Guernica (image compliments of Wikipedia)
Picasso’s Guernica (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Instead, this museum spans his lifetime of work, showing the progression of his artistry. Think of it as a tasting menu that begins in a master chef’s teens, and ends with their signature dish. Pieces were donated by Picasso’s friend, Jaime Sabartes. After Sabartes passed away, Picasso himself donated more paintings including an abundance of his early works. His family has since donated other works.

This is where even the most non-art-inclined person (that would be me) can appreciate his talent. As you walk through the rooms from front to back, you’ll see sketches and paintings beginning in his teenage years and progressing to another of his greatest works. But seeing his early work is impactful because by the age of 15 his talent is clear.

An early sketch of Picasso's "Science and Charity," before he painted the canvas (image courtesy of http://fr.wahooart.com)
Picasso’s “Science and Charity,” before he completed the the canvas, shows his considerable talent at 15 (image courtesy of http://fr.wahooart.com).

Outside of this collection of paintings, and in many ways most impressive, the museum also includes all 44 pieces of Las Meninas, inspired by the Velázquez masterpiece of the same name. What I loved about these paintings (and they are the most famous on display at the museum) is that it shows all the work, and planning, and consideration that is involved in a painting. What goes where, how each piece is portrayed in position, mood and color is all broken out…it’s like seeing each rewrite of Hamlet’s soliloquy.

Picasso's Las Meninas, a highlight of the museum.
Picasso’s Las Meninas, a highlight of the museum.

As I said, this is the most popular room, and it’s what is basically the end of the exhibit. By then, I was pretty overwhelmed, and the room was crowded. In fact, the rooms that house the study of Las Meninas, and the piece itself, are elbow to elbow with people. For background on Velázquez and his connection to these Picasso works, refer to my previous post on The Prado.

For comparison, Velazquez own Las Meninas.
For comparison, Las Meninas by Velazquez.
 
Travel Tip: If you are planning to visit the Picasso Museum, a few suggestions. Buy tickets ahead of time—as I have mentioned before, many of these museums have tickets online. The line for people without ticket is incredibly long and you will spend a  nice chunk of your morning or afternoon snaking your way to the ticket counter. You can roll the dice and try going at noon for a slightly shorter line, but I don’t recommend it. I do encourage a visit during traditional siesta hours, as it is comparatively less crowded.
 
Photographs are not permitted in the museum, however it is not strictly enforced. What will get you in trouble quicker than a New York minute is using flash. It’s frowned upon by tourist and guide alike, but using a smart phone to click a photo is possible. I suggest respecting the guidelines (which I did) and purchasing postcards in the gift shop.
 
I would also strongly recommend purchasing the audio tour. It’s informative and a great way to occupy time hearing about the works while waiting your turn to get in front of the paintings. In fact, across Spain, when you’re at these museums the audio tour makes your visit a lot more enjoyable. It’s worth it, and we were never disappointed by a single audio tour.

 

Because Picasso left Barcelona for Paris in his early twenties, we non-art enthusiasts may forget his Spanish heritage and think a museum like this is out of place Barcelona. He did in fact return to the city several times. However, after the Civil War his opposition to Franco kept him in France, where he continued to paint and design for the Barcelona College of Architects. Franco was later persuaded to allow the city to open this museum.

The Prado’s Little Sister: Reina Sofia

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.