The Prado may be the most famous museum in Madrid, home to some of the greatest works in Spanish history by the likes of Goya and Velázquez, but I've now been to Madrid twice without stepping inside its doors. Instead, I'm always seduced by the Reina Sofia, home to key pieces from some of my favourite artistic movements. While my last visit was taken up with postwar art, especially Fluxus, (plus a room full of Dalí that I couldn't find anywhere this time), on my recent visit I finally made it to the centrepiece of the museum: Picasso's Guernica.
I've grown up with Guernica on the wall of my living room, but seeing it full size (11.5" x 25.5") still had an incredible impact on me. Picasso's 1937 protest against the fascist bombing attack which destroyed this civilian Basque tow confronts you the full terror and despair of the Spanish Civil War, and remains one of the most iconic pictures of all time. Reina Sofia adds to the original painting with preliminary sketches, photos of painting in progress and countless other anti-Franco/anti-Fascist works which put the piece in context.
While many people apparently go straight to the Guernica and then head off to the Prado, it's a gallery where you really need time to study the pieces on display and learn about their history to really appreciate them. There is far too much in the galley to do this for everything, so I'd love to live in Madrid and take a room or two at a time until I'd seen the whole place properly. The Reina Sofia is like a walk through the European Avant-Garde class I took in second year - my favourite of all the courses I've ever taken - in which we explored Dada, Futurism and Surrealism. All of the key pieces from those movements are there, from the Lumière Brothers' hypnotising Serpentine Dance (1899) to Francis Picabia's Portrait of a Young American Girl in a State of Nudity (1915), exploring in very different ways the power of the machine in creating modern identities. I particularly loved seeing an original copy of Blaise Cendrars' poem The Prose of the Transiberian and the Little Jehanne de France beautifully illustrated by Sonia Delauny (enough copies were made so that if they stood end to end they would reach the top of the Eiffel Tower).
As well as the European Avant-Gardes, Reina Sofia is home to twentieth century Spanish greats: Mirò, Tapiès, Picasso (as we've seen above), Dalí, and lesser known artists like Juan Gris, all of whom prove the immense, unparalleled creativity emanating from Spain.
|Picasso, The Painter and the Model, 1963|
|Joan Mirò, Woman and Dog In Front of the Moon, 1936|
I'm looking forward to my next trip, when I can take more time to discover some new pieces.