Thursday, 31 October 2013

Notes from Madrid

Picture: Wikipedia
I went to Madrid last weekend to see the Velazquez show, which I'll review separately (short version: fabulous exhibition, go!). But there's lots else to see too.

El Greco's great El Espolio (above) is on loan from Toledo. It's just been cleaned and restored at the Prado, and it's shown alongside full sized x-ray and infra red photos. I saw it in Toledo a year or so ago, where it was rather dirty and badly hung in the Sacristy. It now looks fabulous. The impasto is well-preserved, showing a much livelier surface than survives on many other El Grecos. It's an overwhelming picture, its daring, dramatic composition undimmed by its well-deserved fame. 

The Prado had three other exhibitions on:
  • An 'Acquisition in Focus' display about Mengs Portrait of José Nicolás Azara - nice picture, well displayed with interesting contextual material.
  • Rome in your pocket: Sketchbooks and artistic learning in eighteenth century Rome. Wonderful small exhibition including sketchbooks by Goya and Reynolds. Most of the exhibits are not masterpieces, but the exhibition effectively illustrates how young art students reacted to and learned from Rome.
  • Captive Beauty: Fra Angelico to Fortuny - a small exhibition of pictures whose only common feature is that they're small. Pointless, confusing and confused attempt to sensationalise the permanent collection by turning part of it into a spurious 'special exhibition'. Some dubious attributions, no wall text, worse context than in the main galleries where missing pictures are replaced with little captions telling you they're in the exhibition. Utterly daft.
I was last in Madrid less than a year ago for the Young Van Dyck exhibtion, but I just can't get enough of the Prado. It's an amazingly concentrated selection of masterpieces by my favourite artists (Raphael, Titian, Velazquez, Rubens, Poussin). 
San Jerónimo
When I'm in Madrid I always go to the Prado (obviously), and usually to the Thyssen, and then I go to one or two of the many other attractions. This time I went to the Royal Palace for the first time. It's a rather shocking example of eighteenth century bling. There are some great things, like the Goya portraits and the Tiepolo ceilings, but some rather ghastly rococo decoration too. At the moment there's an exhibition drawn from El Escorial, which I've never visited. I was glad of the chance to see some of the greatest pictures I've never seen, including the only major Titians that I haven't seen before, but this haphazard and poorly-displayed show was a great disappointment. The first few rooms contain little of interest. Then they have the great Titians crammed together in a small room together with some arbitrary loans from the Prado and National Gallery London. I'm disappointed that they would lend to such a frivolous exhibition.

I flew from City Airport, which is currently trying to prove that it can be as awful as Heathrow. Last week they decided that they needed to search about one bag in three, just because. Madrid airport  is much better, with smooth connections to central Madrid. The tube wasn't running when I returned to London. Just as well I had a spare bike at the office, because the recommended alternatives involved trains to places I've never heard of and suspect don't exist. I think they just make it up to confuse tourists. Still, we're so lucky to live at a time when travel is so cheap and easy. I saw some wonderful things; Madrid is so good it even makes London airports worth bearing.


  1. Excuse the Prado by the foolishness of the "Captive Beauty" but the crisis brought down most ambitious exhibitions and the (desperate) necessity to fill gaps brought this cute nonsense

  2. GAH, make an effort to see El Escorial; you can go by train from Madrid. Its combination of grandeur and austerity really need to be viewed with one or more companions. Spring or autumn.

  3. Yes, I'd love to and I'm sure I will some day. On my previous visit to Madrid I went to Toledo, which is also wonderful. El Escorial is near the top of my 'list of place I haven't visited yet'; I especially want to see the Rogier van der Weyden too!

  4. Christus on the Cross from Escorial by Roger Van der Weyden will be (I think) in the restoration workshop of the Prado Museum, probably until the autumn next year. An exhibition of Van der Weyden and Spain will be held on those dates, with the presence of the Christus on the Cross, the Miraflores Triptych and I guess The Deposition among others.
    Site with the restoration project (no English version)
    Nevertheless the Monastery of El Escorial worth a visit at any time, with works by Guercino, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Velazquez, El Greco, Ribera, Van Dyck, Bernini, Cellini ...

    1. Thanks, that's good to know. I'm worried by how much the Prado seems to be restoring at the moment. They've historically been quite modest, but now they seem to be racing to restore every masterpiece in Spain. El Escorial is certainly near the top of my list of places to visit!