Spain was once the most powerful and richest nation in Europe, and is also the cradle of one of the world's great cultures. In bygone centuries, the great men and great families of Spain - like those in other parts of Europe - amassed considerable fortunes, and spent some of their money commissioning or acquiring works of art. The Catholic church in Spain was also a great patron of the arts. Today, while some of the treasures acquired or commissioned in past times remain in private hands or in churches, sometimes inaccessible to visitors, most of the major works of art acquired from the time of the Reconquest onwards are now in public collections or collections on view to the public.
In addition, Spain - since the start of the twentieth century - has given the world some of its most emblematic and original artists - notably Picasso, Salvador Dali and Joan Miro, many of whose works can be admired in museums and galleries in different parts of Spain.
As in most countries, the main art galleries in Spain are located in big cities, notably Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao: but there are other interesting galleries outside of these locations. The following list offers a selection of the best and most interesting museums and art galleries in Spain.
- - The Prado (Madrid) : Spain's national museum, and one of the best in Europe.Remarkable collection of European painting including iconic works by the Flemish artists Breughel the elder and Hieronymus Bosch as well as works by all major Spanish old masters.
- - Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. (Madrid) . Opened in 1992 this museum is based on what was formerly the world's second largest collection of old masters in private hands. It contains a rich collection of works from the European Renaissance, and fom the French impressionists and German Expressionists, but plenty more too. Highlights include works by Van Eyck, Holbein, Titian, Rembrandt, Monet, van Gogh.
- - Royal monastery of El Escorial (near Madrid). The monastery houses a world-class collection, including major works by Hieronymus Bosch, Titian, Dürer, Velasquez, El Greco and Rogier van der Weyden.
- - Museo-Hospital de Santa Cruz (Toledo, Castilla la Mancha) : A fine collection of classic Spanish art, including many works by Toledo's most famous painter El Greco. More of El Greco's paintings are in the El Greco museum and the church of Santo Tomé, which houses the celebrated Burial of the Count of Orgaz (photo top of page - extract)
- - Picasso Museum (Barcelona, Catalunya) . With more than 3,500 works by Picasso, this museum is the world's greatest collection of the artist's work, and includes some of his most famous paintings, in particular from his early years - including the "Blue period" - between 1890 and 1917.
- - National Art Museum of Catalonia (Barcelona) - Catalonia's national gallery, with a representative collection of Spanish art as well as works from other parts of Europe, and of course works by the major artists of Catalonia including Picasso and Salvador Dali.
- - Joan Miro Foundation (Barcelona) - Almost 400 paintings and sculptures,plus textiles and ceramics by one of Spain's most remarkable painters. The museum also contains almost complete collection of Miro's graphic works and thousands of drawings, plus a small collection of works by contemporaries such as Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, André Masson and Henry Moore.
- - Guggenheim museum (Bilbao, Pais Vasco) - One of the world's great contemporary art museums, opened in 1997. The museum is particular strong on special exhibitions of work by contemporary artists and plastic artists. The building itself, designed by Frank Gehry, is considered to be one of the iconic structures of late 20th century architecture.
- - Fine Arts Museum / Museo de Bellas Artes (Sevilla - Andalucia) - A medium-sized rounded collection of essentially Spanish art, including works by the major Spanish painters - Murillo, Zurbaran, Velazquez, El Greco, Ribera, Valdés Leal, Goya.
- - Royal Monastery of Guadalupe (Extremadura) - One of Spain's top pilgrimage sites, the Monastery - a UNESCO world heritage site - contains a collection of paintings and artefacts, including works by Goya and El Greco.