Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Madrid 2010’ Category

The Prado, Madrid, 19.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2010

 What on earth can I write here to tell you about the Prado? It is a sumptuous art gallery full of the most splendid collection of major artists. It took us the best part of five hours to see all three levels and still there are works that we didn’t have time to look at properly.

There is such an abundance of artworks by Velasquez,  it’s hard to take it all in.  My favourites were the portraits of the royal family – the famous Infanta (immortalised everywhere in the souvenir shops) and poor old Phillip IV with his sulky lip.  (He was said to be inbred.)  I also liked his sympathetic portraits of court dwarves and buffoons, investing them with dignity and respect that they may not have always had in real life.  Tim’s favourite was the Hurdy-Gurdy Player and I do wish I had time to do a search and find a link for these because I’m sure they’ll be online somewhere. 

As you’d expect, since Spain was a major military and imperialist power in its day, there are heaps of huge battle pictures.  My favourite was the surrender at Breda, where the victor showed his chivalrous nature by preventing his defeated enemy from kneeling in subjection.  There were quite a few of these surrender scenes, and almost all of them showed people in the background whose responses to victory ranged from arrogant pride to sympathy and respect for the vanquished. 

Portraits of this period are all about power.  Who’s got it,  and who hasn’t, and how the power arises.  Men mostly have it, though not always, as we could see in the portrait of Maria Louisa and her weak and useless husband.  But by and large the men have symbols of wealth and military prowess while the women hold flowers and wear clothes that reflect their husband’s wealth.  Sometimes the clothes the children wear are the same as those of their parents, reflecting dynastic ambitions.  There is always a back story to these portraits and I love finding about them.

People watching in the cafe is fun too, almost an art installation itself!  By lunchtime the gallery is full of tourists from all over the world and artlovers from all over Spain as well.  There are arty types (mostly young and a bit scruffy); reluctant spouses with aching feet; elegant ladies regretting their high heels; elderly folk tottering along  (determined to see it all before they die?) and tourists in sensible flats of all kinds.  They can be loquacious about the art works or sit in stunned delight; they can be solo travellers or well-behaved tour groups.  I was torn between watching them all or reading the guide book…

 Goya, El Greco, Hieronymous Bosch , Brueghel, Durer – oh there are so many and I’m too tired tonight to list them all.  My advice is, include this museum on your list of places to visit while your feet are young and strong enough to last the day.

We finished up our last night in Madrid at a nearby Galician restaurant. Tim had juicy white asparagus and I had grilled prawns for starters, with Galician hake and grilled sole in tartare sauce for main courses. The whisky cake I had for dessert was rather like a cheese cake with a cup of Johnny Walker poured over it – treacherous if there’s a breathalyzer nearby but of course we were on foot so we were able to risk some Spanish cognac as well!

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Palacio Real, Madrid, 18.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 21, 2010

We were tired out from visiting the Sofia and Thyssen museums – but we just had to visit the palace in Madrid. On the bus tour they had told us that it had some unimaginable number of rooms (2500+) and although it is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, it is only used on state occasions and is open to the public most days.

We used our Madrid card for quick and easy entry.  The Madrid card, like the Dublin card, the Lisbon card and the Barcelona card, is a brilliant choice for tourists. You buy them online from Viator (or from the tourist office or airport if you haven’t planned ahead) and you flourish them in art galleries and museums to bypass queues a mile long. (Often there is a different door to use as at the Louvre, and what’s really good about bypassing the queue is that you can scamper up to the iconic paintings ahead of the mob and actually see them properly.) These cards offer free or heavily discounted entry to most attractions, discounts in restaurants and often free or discounted transport as well. They come in 24, 48 or 72 hour versions, and you can find out if one is available for the city you’re visiting from the Viator website.

Anyway, even if you haven’t got a card, the palace isn’t very expensive and it’s well worth the visit, especially the armoury which is just fantastic. There’s an armoury at the Wallace collection in London, but this completely outclasses it. There are dozens of life size knights in full armour on horses equally covered in beautifully decorated metal, but how they ever managed to actually fight anyone I cannot imagine – the weight must have been incredible.

You can’t take any photos of course, so I’ve sourced all the ones in this slide show from Wikipedia.

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After that, tired as we were, we visited the Catedral de Santa María la Real de la Almudena as well!

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Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art 17.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 19, 2010



Here we are about to set off for the Prado and I haven’t even blogged my thoughts about our visit to the Thyssen Museum….

Street art - the one on the RHS is alive

If you’ve been following my blog you might feel that what I’m about to say is much the same as about the other galleries I have visited. The paintings are arranged chronologically, they demonstrate the development of western art (in this case from the Italian Primitives) and there is a fine collection of Dutch and Flemish masters, most of which we have never seen before not even in books. Modern art movements are represented too starting with the Impressionists (especially Pissarro).

But if you love looking at interesting paintings as an expression of human culture and ideas, then any exhaustive collection of European art is wonderful. At home, I like to visit the NGV time and again, to enjoy my favourite paintings and to look more closely at ones I don’t know very well. Here there is the frisson of seeing new ones, of recognising some that we have seen in books or other media (e.g. a small one of Holbein’s Henry famous painting of Henry VIII)  and also of occasionally recognising a famous person from history, such as a miniature of  Thomas Cromwell.  These little miniatures made me think of the days when an ambassador might be sent off to wangle some treaty or marriage and he had to be ‘made known’ to the court before his arrival. Not unlike the ways in which we arrange ways to recognise internet friends when we meet in real life for the first time!

I am not really a fan of the audio guide but the gallery has done a very good job of identifying its ’emblematic’ paintings, starting with the first of the gallery’s Italian paintings to go beyond its religious function and include an architectural image with a not-bad effort at perspective instead of just the usual holy trio. In the next gallery we saw the first one to differentiate people, leading to the eventual birth of portraiture, and that wonderful Bronzino of that duke, his sneer immortalised by the artist for all time. They have a lovely John Constable and a very early, very moody Van Gogh too.

Tim likes landscapes and still life best, while I like portraits and interiors in particular, but we spent a very satisfying three hours in this museum and would recommend it to anyone.

BTW You are not, of course, allowed to take pics at the museum so I have instead shared some street art photos.  In the one above, the being on the RHS is alive, and it is a feat of genius for him to be able to maintain that pose for hours on end.  I’ll make a slide show of some others if I get time…I’m just off to the Prado!

PS Very, very late on Wednesday night after some belated proof-reading of the above… here’s some Madrid street art:

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Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid, 17.10.10

Posted by Lisa Hill on October 18, 2010

 

Our first full day in Madrid, and we have been busy!

First of all we went to the Museo Reina Sofia, which is the modern art museum, and then we went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art – an extensive private collection donated to the Spanish people by the baroness who felt that art should be shared. To soothe our aching feet, we then took one of those bus tours which whiz around town showing the ‘sights’.  What an amazing city this is!

It’s when you spend a day like this admiring the art collections of a city like Madrid – not quite the renowned collections of London or Paris or New York  –  that you realise that the collections we have in Australia are just a very small part of the wonderful wealth of art works in the world. The Reina Sofia Museum (Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art) is most famous for Picasso’s Guernica but there is much more to it than that. It is superbly well-organised so that even if (like me) you know very little about the important art movements of the 20th century, you can see and understand how they developed.

Figuras al borde del mar Picasso

 Of all of these the movement I found most interesting was the one called Torremos(?) which was an art movement focussed on the human relationship with the land.  Blobs of paint which never made sense to me before are symbols of those ancient mother-earth fertility symbols that we have seen in museums – and the painting always has its symbol ‘rooted to the earth’.  So in their own weird way they celebrate the way we depend on mother earth.  I rather liked them.

There are also sobering works from the period of the Spanish Civil War. From what little we have seen of Spain so far, the Spanish seem far more keen on their ancient history than on their more recent painful past. As Giles Tremlett says in his book Ghosts of Spain  there has been a kind of national silence about the Civil War in Spain – no Truth and Reconciliation Commission, no War Crimes Tribunals and no commemorations for the losing side. We have been to San Sebastian, to Bilbao and to Avila and not seen any memorials about it anywhere. But here in Madrid, at least in this art gallery, we have seen poignant posters beseeching the international community for help, and photographs and paintings that document some of the horrors of the war that I know about from reading works of literature: Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. I don’t suppose these books were available in Spain under Franco, and anyway they were written by outsiders. I wonder what young Spaniards read to learn about this war now?

From the very modern to the historic, we then went to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Art. More about that in my next post, I’m off to dinner.

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