Thursday, July 18, 2019

Moon River in Madrid

The spirit was willing but the dogs were barking.

After sleeping eleven hours and only eating twice yesterday, I awoke ravenous. The hotel restaurant breakfast buffet took a beating as I moved through filling two plates and a bowl before finding a table where I could chow down while plotting my route for the day.

Warm from the fryer churros tasted like the best thing I'd ever put in my mouth and that was after two bowls of cereal, a heaping plate of dates, pineapple and watermelon, three pieces of crusty bread toasted and slathered with strawberry jam and ham.

Because this is a place where ham shows up at every meal.

En route to the Prado Museum, I passed a store called Joyeria (which kind of described how I felt), a man in a Washington Capitals t-shirt and, like last evening, another man in a paper mache head, which is apparently a thing here.

I knew from a recent New York Times article that I wasn't going to get to see the actual Prado building because it's being renovated, but the upside to that is that during the renovations, the entire building is wrapped in fabric which is printed with details of some of the 3,000 canvases inside, so it's sort of a temporary, gift-wrapped building that will be unveiled in November as part of the 1619-2019 museum celebration.

You know, I'm okay with only getting to see this one-time look on the Prado.

Because the paintings aren't arranged chronologically - or even all of one artist's work in adjacent galleries - it was interesting to navigate the museum. I used the directionally-challenged method, wandering from gallery to gallery with only a few attempts to find certain ones because of the artists in it.

While wandering, I came across Eduardo Rosales' "After the Bath" - considered the finest nude in 19th century Spanish painting - which could have passed for an Impressionistic work with its sketch-like qualities and masterful use of light. That it was executed in a single day was nothing short of amazing.

Another aimless find was an entire gallery of still life paintings, hung salon style like I like so much. Many were of intricate flower arrangements, but my favorite was Cerezo's "Kitchen Still Life," a scene filled with meal fixins: a freshly killed lamb, a calf's head, strung up game birds, round loaves of crusty bread, peppers, copper pots and a carafe of wine.

Turns out, of all the unlikely things, that the Prado has the most extensive collection of Peter Paul Rubens in the world because he was such a favorite of King Philip IV. So much flesh. Truly, there's nothing like seeing all those Rubenesque women to make a person feel good about having eaten like a field hand at breakfast.

Who am I kidding? Any meal for that matter.

Seriously, though, seeing a major work like Rubens' "The Three Graces," a staple from my college art history classes, was mind-blowing. Ditto the two oil on slate works by Titian (slate?), hung inside a glass box so viewers could see both sides.

Still, the Prado's collection is enough to overwhelm even the biggest art lover, not to mention tourists who are mainly there simply because a guidebook told them to. I overheard one glazed-over sounding woman tell her husband, "There's some huge ones in here," as a justification for entering yet another gallery despite sounding tired and bored.

Lady G and Mac will appreciate this: I got to see even more Tintorettos today to add to what we saw at the National Gallery last month. Significantly, there was "The Washing of the Feet," a huge work that was painted for the choir of the Venetian church San Marcuola with a dog at its center and Jesus way over in the right corner.

Looking at in the enormous Prado hall, the perspective was weird, but viewed from the far right side, I could see Tintoretto's foreshortening brilliance given the intended placement of the canvas. There were also various portraits he'd done, one of a senator and another of a general, the latter holding a baton which extended out of the picture plane into the viewer's space.

That's Tintoretto demonstrating his mastery of depicting three dimensions. Like he does.

Most surprising about Velazquez' "Las Meninas" - considered the jewel in the Prado's  crown  and justifiably since it's often referred to as the finest painting in the world - was how few people were in front of it when I got to that gallery. It was a pleasure to ogle it for as long - as I wanted.

And may I just say how satisfying it was that picture-taking wasn't allowed. If you ask me, some museums should take a page from the Prado's book .

This blog post isn't going to be long enough to mention even a fraction of what I saw today so what matters is that I got to see Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights," Albrecht Durer's "Self Portrait" and Goya's "Nude Maja," among so many others.

After nearly four hours, I abandoned art for food, making it only as far as the Prado Cafe for a jamon (I told you, every meal) panini with cheese, spinach and egg, patatas bravas and a chocolate cookie for dessert. Just while eating my simple lunch, I overheard people chatting in at least five languages, including a British woman noting that, "Getting married again at this age is a lot more work than I thought."

When I left the Prado, I made my way around the building to admire the draping on all sides before strolling past the Royal Botanical Garden which I wanted to visit but not in the heat of the afternoon.

My next stop was just a look-see at the Atocha train station- designed in 1892 by an architect named Ellisagne in collaboration with Gustave Eiffel (you know the one) - inside and out. The elaborate 19th century brick facade is topped by a half moon of steel and glass that gives it a lacy look from the exterior and an open, light-filled (and plant-filled) look inside.

Let's just say it's light years beyond our American train stations, even the better ones.

Ready for some contemporary art after so much classical work, I walked toward the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, passing musicians on nearly every block and corner: a man playing classical guitar,  a violinist and guitarist playing "Moon River" and several accordionists.

Fascinating to me was that the bike lane was the center lane of a road with two car lanes on either side. I marveled at the brave cyclists willing to pedal between all those speeding cars.

The Sofia's building was originally a hospital and reminded me immediately of D.C.'s Portrait Gallery/American Art Museum because it was a four-sided building with an interior, albeit outdoor, courtyard. Its most striking feature was two glass elevator towers flanking the entrance and giving me a reason not to take the stairs.

Of course I was there for the ultimate art history nerd viewing: Picasso's "Guernica," definitely the holy grail of Picasso's enormous output. Situated in a large gallery, there was appropriately sad music playing, though it was frequently punctuated by one of the guards yelling at people trying to take a picture of it.

No book or slide can prepare you to see "Guernica" in real life, its stark black and white palette adding to the horrific images of a town being bombed. Given the work's importance, both artistically and historically, I was surprised at how quickly people left after laying eyes on it. There was so much to take in.

Adjacent galleries housed related work, such as Dora Marr's photographs of the evolution of the enormous painting and smaller studies done for it. As disturbing as the pieta in "Guernica" is, the study for "Mother with Dead Child" may be even more so for its up-close focus on the scene.

When I finally finished absorbing what I doubt I'll ever see again, I moved on to some of the other galleries. I found Picasso's "Femme au Jardin," a slightly larger than life-size bronze from 1930-32, absolutely captivating with its suggestion of a woman and flowers taller than me. Works by Miro and Calder were inside as well as outside in the courtyard.

This trip will be remembered as the one where I saw another side of Dali that I fell hard for. His "Portrait" from 1925 shows the back of a woman sitting in a heavy wooden chair on a rooftop, her braided hair contrasting with her back. That;s it, no skulls or clocks melting, just a portrait..

It was like no Dali I'd ever seen.

But where I became an uber-fan was with his 1925 "Girl at the Window," an evocative scene of another back, but this time the entire woman. A woman in a blue-striped gray dress is looking out a green-blue framed window with striped blue curtains to a view of water, with a small boat in the distance.

The whole scene was so inviting and believable you could almost smell the water and feel the breeze stirring. I had to know more, so I found signage to help me. Seems Dali is considered the Spanish artist who combined new classicism, modern realism and surrealism (the only part of him I'd known previously) to create what was labeled Arte Nuevo.

By the time I took the glass elevator down, my feet were screaming but I wasn't ready to give up on art entirely.

Instead, I found a shaded bench in the Sofia's courtyard to sit back and admire a huge Calder mobile turning in the late afternoon breeze and a familiar Miro sculpture in black marble. A nearby fountain provided soothing sounds, although there were only a couple of other people outside, making it wonderfully private and peaceful.

And speaking of fountains, walking home I passed one near the Botanical Garden, only to spot three small squirt guns laying on the fountain's lip. I imagine some kid is going to feel like he hit the jackpot when she or he happens to find them.

Kind of like how I hit the art jackpot today. It'll take a while - and multiple conversations with fellow art nerds once I'm home - to fully absorb all the major artwork I got to see today. As G would say, I'm a lucky girl.

I'll just say that it was a joyeria kind of a day and leave it at that.


  1. sighing deeply...
    SO glad it's you drinking this in...if it were anyone else, I'd be jealous.


  2. I thought of you often as I saw things we've only seen in books! You'd have been in heaven with me with so much to see! And no galleries were as crowded as a typical NGA special exhibit... even to see "Guernica"!