The Sotheby’s Museum Network looks beyond ARCO to highlight must-see museums, exhibitions, and historic sites. Aurora Zubillaga, Managing Director of Sotheby’s Spain and a 20-year resident of Madrid, shares her insider tips on the city’s best cultural destinations.
SEVEN MUSEUMS TO VISIT IN MADRID
SPANISH PAINTING GALLERIES, MUSEO NACIONAL DEL PRADO
Museo Nacional del Prado
Among the greatest of the world’s museums, the Museo Nacional del Prado opened to the public in 1819 and boasts an unsurpassed collection of European art from the 12th through 19th centuries primarily drawn from the Spanish Royal Collection. Some 1,300 of more than 20,000 works in the collection are currently on display in the main buildings. Highlights include masterpieces by El Greco, Mantegna, Raphael, Titian, Dürer’s and Goya. Museo Thyssen, Parque del Retiro, and CaixaForum are all within walking distance, making it easy to spend an art-filled day in the area.
MUSEO DE ARTE THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA
Museo de Arte Thyssen-Bornemisza
In 1993, the Spanish state acquired the collection of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The purchase became the cornerstone of this outstanding collection, which, together with the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, form Madrid’s famed 'Triangle of Art'. The addition of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, on loan from the Baron’s widow since 2004, enlarges the presentation to nearly 1,000 works of art. In addition to a world-renowned collection of Old Masters, the museum displays seminal works from movements not well represented elsewhere in Spain, such as Impressionism, Fauvism, German Expressionism and the experimental avant-garde of the early 20th century.
MUSEO NACIONAL CENTRO DE ARTE REINA SOFÍA
Museo Reina Sofía
Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art, founded in 1992, charts artistic movements from 1900 to 1982. Celebrated here are the country’s most revered painters of the last century, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró, as well as other international legends. Among the great masterpieces on display is Guernica, Picasso’s legendary testament to the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War. The museum’s dynamic curatorial programme presents up to six or more exhibitions at one time, including solo shows of significant emerging artists, as well as provocative engagements with issues that have shaped international art for the last 100 years.
Insider Tip: be sure to visit the museum's off-site exhibition venues, Palacio de Cristal and Palacio de Velázquez in Parque del Retiro for more contemporary, and often site-specific exhibitions.
Occupying the home of the famous Spanish impressionist Joaquín Sorolla since 1911, this museum pays homage to one of the country's most renowned masters of light. The painting collection coexists with original furniture and decorative objects throughout the house, and sheds light on life in Madrid at the turn of the century.
MUSEO LÁZARO GALDIANO
Museo Lázaro Galdiano
Another interesting museum for those interested in private collections, the Museo Lázaro Galdiano contains the collection of José Lázaro Galdiano bequeathed to the Spanish State and now considered one of the best holdings of European art in the capital. Among the highlights are Spanish Old Masters, of which the impressive collection of prints and drawings by Francisco de Goya stands out.
REAL ACADEMIA DE BELLAS ARTES DE SAN FERNANDO
Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
Lesser known, and a must-see for anyone interested in Spanish art, The Museum of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Museo de la Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando) is considered one of the best collections in Spain, spanning five centuries of Spanish and Italian art. Explore thousands of works of fine art, as well as an excellent collection of decorative arts including tapestries, silverware, ceramics, porcelain, watches, furniture and medals through the Academy's 59 galleries.
Insider Tip: Interested in Goya? Avoid the crowds at Museo del Prado and head to the Real Academia, which holds the second largest collection of works by the Spanish master.
FUNDACIÓN JUAN MARCH
Fundación Juan March
Located amidst the leafy side streets of Barrio Salamanca, the Fundación Juan March is an active, family-run cultural heritage institution created by the financier Juan March Ordinas in 1955. A variety of free cultural programs occur daily, highlighted by fine art exhibitions, concerts, and lecture series.
Insider Tip: Be sure to explore the Foundation's modern sculpture collection in the headquarter's gardens.
MADRID'S ICONIC PLAZA MAYOR
MUST-SEE CULTURAL SITES
One could easily spend days enjoying the impressive permanent collections and leading exhibitions of Madrid's fifty museums, but cultural destinations can just as easily be found out-of-doors. Be sure to explore the city's famed squares: Palacio Real - 'a must' according to our local experts, Plaza de Oriente (including Teatro Real), and Plaza Mayor. Seeking a quieter experience? Venture to Real Jardín Botánico or Parque del Retiro, the latter of which also contains Palacio de Cristal, where temporary exhibitions by contemporary artists are on regular display.
INTERIOR DOME, IGLESIA DE SAN ANTONIO DE LOS ALEMANES, MADRID
If you find yourself with extra time, or simply seeking something off the beaten path, venture to Fundación Mapfre, CaixaForum, or Sala de Arte Santander for some of the best modern and contemporary art exhibitions in Madrid.
Those interested in seeing Old Masters in their original setting will delight in Goya's frescoes within the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida. Likewise, the Casón del Buen Retiro features frescoes by Luca Giordano, and the Baroque church, Iglesia de San Antonio de los Alemanes, features dozens of frescoes and paintings from the height of Spanish painting.
BEYOND MUSEUMS: THINGS TO DO IN MADRID AND THE SURROUNDING AREA
- The city's best shopping can be found near Calles Serrano, Jorge Juan and Ortega y Gasset
- Visit Casa Patas (“tablao flamenco”) in the old town of Madrid for some of the city's best flamenco performances
- Visit El Escorial - less than 1 hour away from the center of Madrid, the Monasterio del Escorial is a must-see for any visitor
- Visit Toledo - less than 1 hour away from Madrid, Toledo is the center for art by El Greco, and features iconic historic architecture
- Visit Segovia - 1 hour away from Madrid, the historic city features a Roman aqueduct and the Esteban Vicente Museum
AURORA ZUBILLAGA, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF SOTHEBY'S SPAIN
About the Insider:
Aurora Zubillaga was appointed Managing Director of Sotheby's Spain in 2010. She joined Sotheby's London in June 1999 as an expert in the 19th Century Paintings department and was responsible for the Spanish Painting sales until February 2002. She then returned to Madrid to represent Sotheby's Spain, where she held the position of Director of the 19th and 20th Century Pictures departments. In 2007, she was responsible for the re-opening of the Barcelona office and was Director of the office liaising with key clients in the region. Ms. Zubillaga is widely regarded as one of Spain’s leading experts on 19th and 20th century Spanish paintings.