Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



May 2008

"Human life is a sad show, undoubtedly: ugly, heavy and complex. Art has no end, for people of feeling, than to conjure away the burden and bitterness."


Gustave Flaubert 1821-1880: letter to Amelie Bosquet, July 1864, from The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, & Quotation,. Elizabeth Knowles, editor.

Afterglow: Madrid and Barcelona

Dear Reader,

My goal is to visit every art museum on the planet, and last year's birthday gift from my husband was an April visit to Spain. With a few days in Madrid, followed by a few days in Barcelona, I faced a familiar dilemma: which art museums should I plan to see? For weeks, I was in a state of suspended anticipation while reading guidebooks, learning Spanish phrases, watching art videos/DVD's and making lists.

Report: Madrid was all good.

To an art addict, Madrid means the Museo Nacional del Prado. Fra Angelica's Annunciation! Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights! Dürer's Self Portrait and Adam and Eve! Titian's Danäe and the Shower of Gold! I could barely contain my happiness as paintings from art books came to life and allowed me to examine their true colors and brush work. I could swear that every person present in Las Meninas was looking right at me, including Velázquez himself.

As my friend, Rodney Gorme Obien predicted, I was overwhelmed by entire galleries filled with El Greco, and Velázquez, and Goya. It makes sense that the foremost 12th-19th century Spanish artists would be well represented in the largest museum in the capitol city (

There is a special power in seeing many artworks by one artist, which is the point of temporary exhibitions. Ironically, several paintings from the Prado's permanent collection are currently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for El Greco to Velázquez: Art during the Reign of Philip III - April 20-July 27 ( You can bet we will be planning a drive to Boston.

Conservators lifted Goya's series of fourteen Black Paintings from the walls of his home, transferred them to canvas, and in 1881 the Spanish government placed them in the Prado. The truth contained in these allegories of the human condition, in which darkness and violence dominate, will forever haunt me.

Five hours in the Prado, with its galleries full of Goya, were not enough for me. In a neighborhood one Metro stop from our hotel is L'Ermitage San Antonio de la Florida, a chapel where Goya is buried and where he painted the walls and ceiling with frescoes (

Surrounding Goya's tomb are saints and angels in their celestial glory, with panels of Spaniards observing them in awe. Large mirrors aimed at the ceiling are placed in corners of the chapel to help stave off neck aches. It was a thoughtful gesture to be sure, but I ignored them because I did not want anything mediating my contact with those frescoes.

Another day and another five hours begins to describe our visit to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, a former hospital that houses modern art, with an emphasis on Spanish artists (

The major visiting exhibition occupying four sections on three floors was Picasso: The Collection of the Museé National Paris. In a word, it was "huge," in another, "comprehensive." This exhibit also complimented the Riena Sofia's own Picasso art-magnet, "Guernica." To prepare yourself for this icon of 20th century art, I recommend the video "Pablo Picasso's Guernica" from the Discovery of Art series (

The permanent collection is magnificent, with artwork by Julio Romero de Torres, José Gutiérrez, Juan Gris, Rafeal Barradas, Francis Picabia, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and as the expression goes, more!

Next month's journal will be about Barcelona. It, too, was all good. While Madrid is a great lady, she takes herself very seriously. Barcelona is her wild and crazy sister, the one who will make you laugh and stays in your memory and imagination.

If you have had art experiences that have left you with an afterglow and want to share them, please contact me at