I spent an astonishing stretch of time in the Prado on Saturday, in an operation that experience and aesthetics have taught me to pace properly. I pick a particular artist or cluster of artists and focus on them for an hour or ninety minutes (visiting the parts of the museum that are relevant to them, not focusing on anything else, more or less), then I find the cafe, get a cup of coffee and a tasty, and relax for a bit, glowing from the experience. Then I plan the next pieces of the museum I will visit next and begin my focus on that part. The temptation with a museum the size and complexity of the Prado, with the remarkable depth it has in its collections, is just to show up and try and see everything in whatever order you find them. This results in confusion, superficiality, and major headache and backache, at least for me. I’m happy to go in and see a subset of what is there really properly and in context rather than just “see stuff”.
So of course I mostly focused on Spanish painters – several of the masters before the 20th Century – and later, other masters who perhaps were creating work in a Spanish context of some kind, and later, particular masters who happen to have examples of some of their great work housed in the Prado, whether there be a Spanish context or not, of which there are several such examples.
The collection is amazing. About 1/3 of my time was spent on Goya, in fact. (I wisely refrained from writing a blog post entitled “Goya – Oh boya!”). It was pretty much a self-imposed mandatory task to see the striking Saturn Devouring One of His Sons, which I’ve always wanted to see for real, and it was but one of several spectacular works in his black period that was in one section. Other sections had the wonderful and moving 2nd of May and 3rd of May, for example, and there were yet more separate sections with just his portrait work. And there was so much more. Then I went back in time to look at Velásquez, then Jose de Ribera, then El Greco, all of whom are very well represented. This was quite a blissful experience, I hope you realize. Along the way, I ran into an unexpected treat – a sculpture (one of the few featured in the Prado) by Suñol entitled Dante Pensativo, which I strongly recommend looking out for if you even visit. It was quite marvellous and I did a study of it for about half an hour, as I like to quietly do on occasion with some interesting three dimensional works. (I gave up when it was clear that I was becoming part of the exhibit myself with people stopping to look at me and what I was doing more than looking at anything else in the room – a bit annoying, frankly.)
Of course, toward the end one had to spend a bit of time with a few Tizianos (Titians), Rubens’ (who can resist the joy and movement in The Three Graces?), and the two great Bosch works, The Table of the Seven Deadly Sins and The Garden of Delights, and several more pieces, before eventually deciding that it was time to go. I wandered the streets for some hours more, looking around at random, missing the opportunity to see a Flamenco show I wanted to see (it was sold out), and later trying to find a Jazz club (which I eventually worked out had closed some years ago). After a late dinner in an excellent restaurant I returned to the hotel.
Sunday so far has been mixed. It started off with me planning a similar day, but now focusing on the 20th Century by going to the Centro de Arte Reino Sofia. This has so many of the remarkable 20th Century Spanish painters, and another mandatory piece for me to finally see with my own eyes, Picasso’s Guernica. I was giddy with excitement at breakfast just making notes for the plan, given all I was to see. I got there (after an unexpectedly excellent detour at Atocha Station (it is fantastic!), worked out where the painting was, and worked my way directly to the section where it was, and as I got within sight of it, the staff started shooing people away! What? Why?! I was confused. Then I got it – they close early on Sunday. It was 2:15pm and they were closing down each gallery one by one. Some people (who presumably were also caught off guard and for which today was maybe their only day left of their trip) tried rather comically to make a break for it and rush in to see the painting but clearly the staff are used to this tactic and had put on their front line troops, and in strength. I and others found ourselves with theatrical looks of dismay on our faces, arms outreached, being walked backwards by the advancing line of staff with their palms outstretched. If it were not for the bitter disappointment of the moment and the rule that one should not be taking photos in the museum I’d have photographed the scene, as it was priceless.
I cheered up a bit when I read the schedule and saw that they actually open on Monday, my last full day here, and so I can come back and see all the Picassos, Dalís, Mirós, and other works that I so want to see in person. (Even after that there’ll be so many great works, collections and museums left unexplored – Madrid has so much artwork.)
This all threw me for a while, partly because I was annoyed by the idea of closing a major museum early on a Sunday, but mostly because in all my careful planning it never occurred to me to check the closing time! Had I realized, I would either not have had the long slow late-morning planning breakfast (a delicious thing to do the last two mornings after very late nights out – Madrid is my kind of city in this way: so much to do well after midnight), or I’d have gone off to explore Toledo, which I’d left for either my next visit, or possibly some of Monday. Then I remembered that I still had so much more to do on foot, simply looking around the city’s streets and architecture, and so off I went, discovering so many treats, including the Cathedral de la Almudena (see above), the Plaza Mayor (at daytime – several tapas journeys have acquainted me with it at night), lots of beautiful random street views, and an unexpected treat – the excellent Mercado de San Miguel at which I stopped to wander slowly and consume some bacalao treats (memories of my Caribbean childhood, like a lot of Spanish cooking does, in fact), some crisp wine to go with them, and then later some coffee and a bit of fresh bread.
And you know what? I only thought about (detailed) physics research issues for a few moments here and there in these last two days, and certainly not one shred of other work-related matters (ok, maybe one little time for ten minutes in the morning when dealing with some emergency recommendation letters). Good to (mostly) clear one’s head of it all for a while.
Next? I’m blogging in my hotel room on the bed to relax from all the walking, waiting until late evening when I will head back out to a Cafe and Jazz club for some live music, good food, and whatever else the evening may bring.