Friday, November 14, 2014

Museum Meanders 1

Much of our time in Madrid has been devoted to museums. The weather is a big determinant of our activities. Rain is a real threat at this time of year so plans remain flexible. We check the forecast regularly assessing the feasibility of day trips.

In my earlier travels I used to spend time seeking that unique item that would remind me of our travels. My best discovery was a hand carved chess set in Granada with beautiful Spanish faces adorning each piece. On our last trip to Paris we came home with a sculpture of a horse that still gives me great pleasure, but such discoveries are unexpected. Madrid is filled with souvenir shops that are unlikely to divulge such treasures so instead we admire the treasures of its museums.

One thing to be aware of is when museums are free, especially the larger museums that are more costly. Not all of them share this information on their site. We set out Monday morning for the Thyssen-Bornemisza which is free from noon til four on Mondays. As most museums are closed on this day, it is a good use of one's time.

We had been to the Thyssen twice before and it is hands down my favorite museum in Madrid. We arrived shortly before noon and joined a long line that ran out the courtyard and around the block. We were inside the museum within ten minutes and began our visit at the top with the Italian primitives. The collection spans Italian, German, Dutch, Flemish and Spanish work through the 18th century. It includes Renaissance and Baroque art, Impressionism, post-Impressionism and German Expressionism. It also explores European and American artists up through the 20th century from Cubism to European post-war figurative art. It is an amazing art history course spanning seven centuries and has high quality pieces representing each artist.

When we go to museums I take photos of favorite paintings. I have electronic folders of images and labels from many museums. I find that the act of photographing fixes a painting in my memory. Sometimes I focus on a theme such as portraits. I am especially interested in how artists achieved certain effects, particularly ones that I might want to attempt. I am also intrigued by unexpected paintings from artists with which I am familiar. For example I associate Raoul Dufy with brightly colored, sketchy paintings of the French Riviera so was intrigued by a realistic painting titled The Fish Market which dates to 1904/5 right before he became familiar with Matisse and shifted to Fauvism.
On the way to the Thyssen we were intrigued by the building of the CaixaForum Cultural Center with its stunning vertical garden. It exhibits retrospectives of artists from earlier time periods. We discovered that they too were free on Mondays and stopped there later for an exhibition that explored the beginning of Western civilization through objects representing mythology and philosophy. It is well worth a visit for the building alone and the excellent exhibition felt like a bonus.

Every large city seems to have a Bella Arte museum. In Madrid it is known as the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. The museum is associated with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of which Goya was once a member. The museum is free on Wednesdays. The highlights of this museum are a number of Goya's including two self portraits. There are also five Zubaran monk paintings, always favorites of mine. One floor is devoted to a contemporary exhibition of members of the Academy which we thought was quite exceptional.

The Reine Sophia is close to our hotel so we decided to go over Sunday when they are free 1:30-7:00 PM. They have had an expansion since our last visit with a distinctive red facade and roof. We were disappointed to learn that it was only free for selected exhibitions so returned later in the week for the permanent collection. On past visits I had enjoyed this museum with excellent text in English and a clear flow through periods of contemporary art. That seemed to have disintegrated and we found the flow confusing. As expected Guernica attracted a considerable crowd. There are many artists who are represented who may be well-known in Spain, but with whom I was not familiar. When I searched for one that I admired, I learned that he had little presence outside of Spain. It is interesting to be reminded that our knowledge of art history, especially contemporary history, may vary geographically.

Coming soon...Museum Meanders 2

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