The Reina Sofia in Madrid

posted in: Home, Spain | 6

We settled into in an AirBnB on the Calle de la Sombrereria, in the middle of Madrid, and on our first day we decided to visit the Reina Sofia in Madrid. The museum was just a ten-minute walk away from the flat. We had had a relaxing few days in La Granja and felt ready to tackle some more serious intellectual challenges!

Reina Sofia Museum

The museum started life as the San Carlos Hospital. In the 16th century Philip II centralised all the hospital facilities in Madrid in this new hospital. José de Hermosilla and Francisco Sabatini were the architects. The building functioned as a hospital until 1965.

The building was declared an artistic-historic monument in 1977 and renovation work started shortly afterwards. In 1986 the Reina Sofia Art Centre opened, named after Queen Sofia. A permanent was established from 1992.

Reina Sofia in Madrid
Old part of the museum (L) and the Conservatory of Music (R)

In 2005 the new extension was added. The Reina Sofia is now the premier museum of 20th century art in Spain. It is also a beautiful building. Photography is not allowed inside the museum galleries.

Reina Sofia in Madrid
Entrance to the Reina Sofia through the new extension
Reina Sofia in Madrid
Old building (L) and new extension of the Reina Sofia

Spanish Civil War

We went to the museum to see Picasso’s Guernica. It is in a large gallery with many preliminary sketches and it hard to describe the effect of this huge work, 11 ft high and 25 ft long. It is of course about the bombing of a Basque town by the Germans during the Spanish Civil War. The Condor Legion was composed of volunteer German soldiers from the German army and air force who fought for the Nationalists. In April 1937 they bombed the town of Guernica killing possibly as many as 800 civilians.

The Republicans were using the town as a communications centre and Franco wanted it wiped out so that he could move on to Bilbao.

Picasso’s Guernica on Wikipedia in the Reina Sofia in Madrid
Image on Wikipedia
Guernica on Wikipedia
The ruins of Guernica (This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive)

The museum also has a room of posters from the Civil War years which I found very shocking. I was reading C J Sansom’s book A Winter in Madrid and the combination of the words and pictures was quite overwhelming. Perhaps I was also feeing the effect of the times, and the war in Ukraine. It is horrifying to see what people can do to one another.

Madrid itself was bombed and attacked. The Republicans held the city and it was besieged and attacked by the Nationalists for two and a half years.

Madrid in the Civil War
Madrid (


Man Ray, or Emmanuel Radnitsky, was born in Philadelphia in 1890 to Jewish immigrants from Russia. He started life as a painter but moved to Paris in 1921 where he remained for the rest of his life, apart from a few years in America during WWII. He was involved with movements such as Dadaism, Surrealism, Marxism. I knew something of his photography – not enough! – and found the photographs in the museum stunningly beautiful. I have subsequently found he also produced rayograms, which sound to me very similar to today’s cyanotypes. Or the work done by Michael Jackson with luminograms.

Man Ray in the Reina Sofia in Madrid

Inspired by Man Ray, Dali, and Miro I decided to have a go!

Taken in the Reina Sofia

The Reina Sofia in Madrid is a beautiful museum, both in terms of the two buildings and in terms of the contents. You really need to live in Madrid to take full advantage of the art…!

6 Responses

  1. restlessjo

    It’s fairly accessible to me now and it’s certainly a city I’d like to visit. They were bleak years for Spain during the Civil War. Awful setting families against each other.

    • Candy Blackham

      It is a very ‘livable’ city, with each neighbourhood seemingly well-equipped with most things you might need. And yes, the Civil War years must have been quite dreadful – do read the the C J Sansom book.

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