If you love and appreciate fine art, you have to include a visit to the Museu Nacional D’Art de Cataluña (the National Museum of Art of Cataluna – MNAC). Here, you will find some of the most treasured artwork in Barcelona, perhaps in all of Spain.
The museum, itself, is housed in the Palau Nacional, Barcelona’s new baroque palace which is centrally-located on Montjuic Hill and was long ago conceived by Josep Puig i Cadafalch to be the centerpiece of the 1929 International Exhibition.
The museum’s ground floor is divided into three main sections – Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance and Baroque. The second floor, or upper level, is devoted entirely to Modern Art and includes dramatic examples of drawings, prints and posters even a numismatics collection.
Dramatically-domed and visually inspiring, the building housing the museum is worth the visit, even before you see the glorious artwork inside because it represents one of the finest examples of modern architecture anywhere in Barcelona. Of course, once inside, you will be treated to the most complete collection of Catalan art that exists anywhere in the world – a spectacular presentation that includes everything from Romanesque to Modern art.
When you enter through the museum’s main entrance, you will immediately encounter the Romanesque gallery to the left of the central hallway and the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque galleries to the right. Take your time walking around the ground floor because there is much to see and enjoy.
The Romanesque Art Collection, for example, is one of the most notable in the museum because it features stunning collection of mural paintings. These one-of-a-kind paintings (the majority of which were bought from churches in the Pyrenees region of Spain) were relocated to the museum during the period dating from 1919 to 1923. Interestingly, a special technique was used to “cut and remove” the frescoes from the walls on which they rested and transplant them – safely – to a new surface … the walls of the museum. This memorable collection features artwork that dates all the way back to the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.
The Gothic Art Collection is extensive and includes mural paintings, panel paintings, stone, ivory and wood sculptures … plus metalworking and enamels that date back to the period from the late 13th century to the 15th century.
The Renaissance and Baroque Art Collection exists, in large part, because of the Cambo Collection. Donated to the museum by the financier, Frances Cambo, it underscores the evolution in the tastes of polite Catalan society for the art that was produced in Spain and other parts of Europe in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. It is a noteworthy collection, well represented by the works of Rubens, Tintoretto, El Greco, Titian and many others.
The generosity of other donors has also helped to improve the collection. For example: the addition of The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection has added the works of such European artists as Rubens and Huber to the museum’s walls.
The Modern Art Collection, located on the upper level, captures the glory of the modernist movement when it took root, and prospered, in Catalonia. Many superb artists are well represented here, including Fortuny, Casas, Gaudi, Picasso, Rusiñol and others.
And, while the artwork that covers the walls is notable, the museum’s collection also includes modernist furniture (including several pieces by Gaudi), fireplaces and doorknobs.
A small collection of vintage photographs is also available for viewing, as well as an extensive numismatics display (more than 134,000 coins) that chronicles the evolution of coins from the first Greek minting to the modern Euro and payment cards.
Here’s how easy it is to get to the museum:
1. The museum is easily reachable by foot from the Plaza Espana. All you need do is walk briefly along Queen Maria Cristina Avenue until you reach the long stairway that leads directly to the museum. If you’re in good shape and energetic, walk the stairs. If not, you can take a convenient escalator that also leads directly to the museum.
2. Public transportation is also readily available from the Plaza Espana to the museum. You can board the Nº50 bus or the Nº55 bus. Each goes directly to Estadi Olimpic, which is the stop that will lead you directly to the museum. You can take an escalator down from the bus stop which will leave you at the museum’s main entrance.
Entry into the museum, itself, is free and allows visitors to enjoy a few of the temporary exhibitions and the building’s stunning architecture, including its painted dome. Those visitors will also be able to purchase souvenirs from the Souvenir Shop on the ground floor and patronize the museum’s restaurants. In fact, one upper level restaurant includes panoramic views of Barcelona for diners. Visitors to the upper level will also be able to see and enjoy the original frescoes that have been painted onto the doom.
For visitors who want to see the permanent exhibitions for which the museum is noted, there is a modest fee of 8.50 Euros for adults only; children under age 12 are admitted free. The first Sunday of each month is also free for all visitors.
If you really enjoy art, you may wish to purchase an Articket. It allows you to visit up to 7 of the city’s best art centers and museums at a dramatically reduced price. It provides additional advantages, as well, such as enabling you to visit the Museu Nacional d’Art de Cataluna twice. You also get an audio guide at no additional cost, which can come in handy when viewing the art.
Finally, here is some good advice for you:
● Remember to enjoy the stunning view of Barcelona from the front steps of the museum. It is magnificent … and memorable. You may even wish to enjoy a coffee or light snack at the museum’s open air café while you enjoy the incredible panoramic views.
● Most of the signs that accompany the works of art are written in Catalan. Be sure to carry an audio guide with you so that you can better understand the history behind the art. You may also elect to take a guided tour on your walk through the museum.
● The use of the audio guide can be confusing because it narrates the history and background of selected pieces, but not everything. As such, you need to be attentive so that you can match a special symbol next to the artwork with a corresponding number to make sure that you will fully understand everything you see.
● Photographs are disallowed throughout the museum. However, many visitors take pictures using their mobile phones or their cameras when the guard is out of sight.
● The Oleum Restaurant, located on the museum’s upper level, is open from 1 P.M. to 4 P.M. only, Tuesdays through Sundays. While somewhat expensive, it affords diners magnificent views of Barcelona and, as such, may be worth a visit.
● Try to avoid arriving at the museum in the early morning hours. That is when it is most crowded with numerous school tours.
From the 11th century all the way up to the present, the magnificent National Museum of Art of Catalonia presents more than 1,000 years of the very finest in Spanish and European art from many of the world’s great masters — all in one incredible museum. It is the one trip you must make during your stay in Barcelona.