Coming to Madrid during the height of summer in mid-July makes it easy to understand why the Spanish siesta exists. The first time I actually understood someone speaking Spanish was inside a bodega in Justicia where a man walked in and said “Que calor!” which could only mean, “What heat!” So, what’s a girl to do when the Spanish sun heats the country to the low 90s on a daily basis? Head to the air-conditioned refuge of Madrid’s internationally celebrated museums of course!

Here are my top three art museums in Madrid…

El Prado Museum

Visiting the Prado was a major reason why I was so excited to visit Madrid. This internationally renowned museum is known for housing an impressive collection of paintings, particularly by the artist Francisco Goya.

One of the most famous paintings in the Prado is Ladies in Waiting, 1656 by Diego Velázquez, located in room 12 on the 1st floor. I have to say it was quite surreal to see the painting in person after learning about it in art history class during university several years ago.

They say that most people find the Mona Lisa to be much smaller in person, but for Ladies in Waiting, I found the opposite was true! The gorgeous canvas is much larger in person than I would have imagined it when I saw the image in my history book.

Despite its size, a large portion of the expansive painting is devoted to a dark, desaturated background, while the main subject of the painting, a child royalty member, is softly bathed in light, seizing the viewer’s attention. The painting itself is best viewed from a bit farther back, as up close you can see how the artist blurred many of the strokes, creating too soft of an appearance up close. Specifically, when you look at the hand of Velasquez himself (he is present in the painting!), you can see that it was not perfectly rendered. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not, but it sure makes the painting more interesting.

Another room I particularly enjoyed was room 39 on the first floor. It is filled with French masterpieces including majestic portraits of Louis XIV and Louis XVI (so many Louis’), the second of which was painted by the artist Antoine François Callet. It turns out, Madrid was home to many French artists after the French prince Philip V took the throne in Spain during the year 1700, many drawn by the chance to capture his royalty.

While I didn’t get to see Bosch’s famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights, you should definitely check it out during your visit!

El Prado Madrid
El Prado Madrid

Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

This museum was founded by a Spanish art collector named Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. She insisted on sharing her collection with the world, so this museum along with a sister museum in Málaga were opened. I absolutely loved the three quintessentially Spanish works I saw here featuring the King of Spain and a bullfight!

Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid
Pablo Picasso, Bullfight, 22 July 1934
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid
Salvador Dalí, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944
Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Madrid
Francisco de Goya, Portrait of Ferdinand VII, 1814-15

Museo Reina Sofia

The Museo Reina Sofia is a Spanish national museum devoted to 20th century art. Here is the home of Picasso’s iconic painting Guernica, 1937. In addition to Picasso, many other Spanish artists’ works are represented including Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró to name a few. This was my least favorite museum of the three, but still worth a visit nonetheless!

Reina Sofia Madrid
Reina Sofia Madrid
Pablo Picasso, Seated Woman Resting on Elbows, 1939
Reina Sofia Madrid
Salvador Dalí, Pierrot Playing the Guitar [Cubist Painting], 1925

Turns out there is a name for these museums and it’s called the Golden Triangle of Art in Spain! Personally, I loved visiting the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza the most because it has top-quality art in a smaller, more manageable space!

What are your favorite art museums in Madrid?

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