Five overlooked art museums in Madrid

Madrid is famous for its art. The Spanish capital boasts a “Golden Triangle” of world-class museums: the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. While these are all worth a visit, Madrid has dozens of other art museums that are generally overlooked by the casual visitor. Here are five local favorites.

Museo Sorolla
The house of one of Spain’s most famous painters from the turn of the last century is preserved much the way he left it. The Museo Sorolla is an elegant old mansion with a quiet Moorish courtyard. The walls of the high-ceilinged rooms are covered in the paintings of Joaquín Sorolla Bastida, a prolific painter who favored sunny beach scenes like the one shown here. As interesting as the paintings are the many antiques he collected and knickknacks from his daily life, like a palette covered in colors next to a shelf stuffed with used tubes of paint. Looking at little details like this, you feel like Sorolla has just stepped out for a coffee.

%Gallery-127477%Museo del Romanticismo
Visit a mansion built in 1776 to see how rich folks lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. At the Museo del Romanticismo the ballroom, dining room, bedroom, and nursery are all fitted up with period furnishings. There’s even a velvet commode. The furnishings and artwork are all good examples of Romanticism, an art movement that was hugely influential at the time because it reacted against industrialization and science and hearkened back to a simpler age. Nostalgia is nothing new! The paintings often show Arcadian scenes or the exploits of famous adventurers. The collection of personal objects includes a bit too much lace and porcelain for my taste, but my wife loved this place.

Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando is a Madrid institution. Founded in 1744, it’s still teaching aspiring artists today. It’s housed in a grandiose Baroque palace and has an impressive permanent collection of Renaissance and early modern art, including works by Francisco de Goya, who used to be the academy’s director. The ground floor has a temporary exhibition space that attracts small but interesting shows. I saw an amazing exhibition on Ottoman calligraphy there once. Not what I was expecting but good on the eyes!

El Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales
Not technically an art museum, “The Monastery of the Barefoot Royals” houses a large collection of religious art. These nuns went barefoot as penance for their sins, but they lived well in other ways. First off, they were daughters of noblemen, so they came to the order with their dowries. This often included fine art. Since they’d been given a 16th century royal palace to live in, there was plenty of room to decorate. Check out the soaring church, fine tapestries, and even some religious relics such as a portion of the True Cross. This is still an active nunnery so dress respectably.

Museo Lázaro Galdiano
Another house museum like the Museo Sorolla, the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano has recently reopened after a long renovation. It’s a beautiful palace along Calle Serrano in Madrid’s poshest district. Galdiano was a millionaire and one of Spain’s most passionate collectors of art. When he died in 1947 his collection was turned into a museum. It’s especially strong in Old Master paintings, so if you didn’t get enough of that at the Golden Triangle, here’s your chance to see more. Plenty of Romanticism too, if visiting the Museo del Romanticismo left you wanting more of that too.

[Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]