THE PRADO NATIONAL MUSEUM
Any museum, especially a national museum, is also a history book. We enter it to contemplate the individual works it holds: to enjoy and, to the degree we can, understand them individually. But a museum also has its own melody in addition to the individual notes, and to comprehend that single entity, composed from objects that are often widely divergent, is to understand a piece of history. Not only, not even mainly, about the artists' history but rather of the people who looked at them, then organized and arranged the works. The museum's sensibility comes into play in that history, and with that the circumstances surrounding it, the society, its government and political elements, its faith and beliefs, and perhaps also the ways in which those beliefs have changed. The impulse behind collecting and the forms of displaying each period are children of their time and, as such, museums bring that time-stamp with them.
Naturally, a national museum is not a mere catalogue of historical events. But putting such titles aside, a museum is truly national only when its identity is rooted deeply in the history of its people. Then even its silences, its omissions, become telling.
The Prado is relatively poor in Dutch painting (in spite of being home to Rembrandt's "Judith"), even though 17th century works from that country represent an essential chapter in Western painting. On the other hand, the museum is extraordinarily rich in Flemish painting from the 17th century, as well as the two preceding it. Its collection is limited in Italian painting from the 1400s, but is fortunate to have brilliant works from that era, yet Italian painting from the 16th and 17th centuries ranks second only to Spanish painting as the most impressive part of the collection in both quality and quantity. French painting from the second half of the 17th century through the 18th century is also particularly important. We certainly cannot insist here that all is intimately related to the history of Spain.
It is therefore quite logical that the Prado has always been highly regarded, from its inauguration though until the present day, enjoying a special prestige in every generation of Spanish society. It is genuinely one of the institutions at the heart of Spanish culture.
The Space. The Monasterio de los Jerónimos, the Palacio del Retiro and the Salón del Prado
When King Philip II settled his court permanently in the small city of Madrid in 1561, a complex process of urban transformation began that was also a process of symbiosis between town and court. His architect Juan Bautista de Toledo presented a report in 1570 that made clear that the intention was to make Madrid a European capital, even though very few of his proposals would ultimately become reality. Amongst the very limited number of plans that did get off the ground was the urban alignment of the city's eastern boundaries. The space immediately outside the city walls - beyond Calle Atocha (Atocha Street), Calle Huertas, and the Carrera de San Jerónimo - was earmarked for transformation into a landscaped garden and recreation area. Following the bed of the Fuente Castellana creek, the boundaries of the green area were the walls enclosing the city and those of the Monasterio de Jerónimos, located outside the urban area.
The monastery was founded by Queen Isabella ("the Catholic"), the great-grandmother of Philip II, and built by his royal architect Enrique Egas around 1500. Philip II ordered Juan Bautista de Toledo to renovate and expand it, building the so-called Royal Quarters (Cuarto Real), an area of rooms to allow the monarch to rest or take part in the liturgies and convent life if he wished. The Prado, lying between the monastery and the city walls, became from then on the place in the capital where citizens could go for recreation. It was always crowded and noisy; the location, for example, of more than one scene in the comedies of Lope de Vega or Calderón de la Barca.
King Felipe IV issued orders in 1630 to expand the Royal Quarters until they were converted into the Buen Retiro Palace (Palacio del Buen Retiro), one of several royal residences (reales sitios) lying outside the city. Its close proximity made the Palace the perfect spot for the King, the royal family and court to enjoy celebrations and still return at night to sleep at the Real Alcázar, their primary residence. The building grew to huge proportions and while the architecture was really quite poor, the palace became famous very rapidly for its fabulous collections of paintings, sculptures, tapestries and furniture, not to mention its theatre and extraordinary, sophisticated garden. The decor of the Hall of the Kingdoms (Salón de Reinos), simultaneously a space for social gatherings and theatre performances of the court and a throne room, was designed with frescoes of grotesques, opulent furnishings of jasper, marble and bronze, and a series of 12 huge canvases portraying the victories of Philip IV's armies (including Velázquez's "The Surrender of Breda"), Zurbarán's series of 10 paintings on "The Labours of Hercules", and the series of five portraits of the royal family on horseback by Velázquez. They are all preserved today in the Prado.
With the onset of the 18th century and the arrival of the first Bourbon kings, the Buen Retiro Palace relived a period of unusual prominence. On Christmas Eve 1734, the old residence of the royal family, the Real Alcázar, burned to the ground. Over the next 30 years, while the present-day Royal Palace was being built, the Buen Retiro Palace served as the main residence for King Philip V, Louis I, Ferdinand VI and the first five years of Charles Ill's reign. The definitive transfer of the court of Charles Ill to the new Royal Palace signalled the beginning of an inexorable, inevitable decline for the Buen Retiro Palace.
Napoleon crowned his brother Joséph Bonaparte King of Spain in 1808, and during the next four years, the Palace, its garden and surrounding outbuildings, including the one currently housing the Prado, served as a French military headquarters and key element in their defence strategy for the city. The only remnants of the old palace complex, buildings that still bear witness today to how enormous and luxurious it was, are the Hall of Kingdoms and the Casón del Buen Retiro, the current library of the Prado the vault of which Luca Giordano would decorate during the reign of Charles II with the magnificent "Allegory of the Order of the Golden Fleece, or Apotheosis of the Spanish Monarchy" (Alegoria de la Orden del Toisón de Oro, the highest emblem of the Hapsburg dynasty).
The gardens of both the Retiro Palace and Prado of San Jerónimo were saved from the ravages of war. The reign of Charles III, the erudite king who passed into popular memory as "the best Mayor of Madrid", was crucial for this entire area of the city. Around 1763, his architect José de Hermosilla, a renowned exponent of the Enlightenment and Neo-classicism in Spain, began a general rehabilitation of the area known until then as Prado Viejo, which he rearranged and renamed the Salón del Prado. What Hermosilla essentially did was transform that area outside the city walls into a landscaped urban walkway, highlighted by fountains featuring sculptures and monuments: Cibeles, Apollo or the Four Seasons, Neptune, the fountains on Calle Huertas, and finally Alcachofa at the end of Calle Atocha. At that same southern end, Hermosilla was building a large hospital named the Hospital General de la Pasion that expanded the city beyond Calles Atocha and Santa Isabel. That project, an architectural symbol of enlightened rationalism, was continued by Sabatini and Juan de Villanueva, and would wind up two centuries later being converted into the present day Queen Sofia Museum (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia).
Charles III also opened the garden of the Buen Retiro Palace to the public in 1767, giving the final impetus for the transformation of the lovely garden into an urban park. At one end of it, on an elevated promontory very close to the Salón del Prado, the King had Juan de Villanueva design and build the Royal Observatory (Observatorio Astronómico). In its immediate vicinity, downhill and now directly bordering on the Salón del Prado, the Royal Botanical Garden was built in 1781, with a building next to it running along the same axis that served simultaneously as the site of the Real Gabinete de Historia Natural and Real Academia de las Ciencias. It was designed that way, to run longitudinally as a walkway of science and human knowledge, parallel and intimately tied to the natural walkway represented by the Salón del Prado.
The building of Juan de Villanueva
The commission for the entire complex fell to Juan de Villanueva in 1785. A prolific architect with an international education who displayed his undeniable genius in a great many buildings that were quite diverse in nature, a brilliant draftsman, a notable intellectual and standard bearer for the Enlightenment in Spain, his name is forever linked above all to the historic building that today houses the Prado Museum. On 30 May 1785, Villanueva presented two projects, one of which was finally approved.
The project was structured around three hubs: two on the northern and southern borders and one in the centre. The two border hubs had square floor plans and were crowned with a dome. The central hub had a monumental basilica floor plan with an axis running perpendicular to the rest of the building. The three hubs were connected by the respective extended branches of the galleries.
The three facades and interiors of the two floors with their vaults, basements and lead covering of the domes (which were plundered to make ammunition) were already finished when the Napoleonic troops of General Murat barricaded themselves inside the building in 1808. The building was badly damaged during the ensuing four years of war, and the project was restarted in 1814 by AntonioLópez Aguado, a student of Villanueva: he reinforced and repaired the vaults and added skylights to the upper floor. That started a long process of rehabilitation and adaption for the building, a process that very shortly would also be governed by the pressing need to increase its size. A process, in short, of great complexity, and an ongoing one that had its latest chapter in the 21st century when the museum came to absorb and make its own the remains of the cloisters of the old Monasterio de San Jerónimo and the Casón del Buen Retiro.
The Royal Collection
One person deeply involved in this transformation was Queen Isabella of Braganza, the second wife of Ferdinand VII. She inspired and promoted the creation of a Royal Museum where it would be possible to view the greatest number of paintings from the monarch's collection. However, Isabella did not live to see this project become reality, dying just less than a year before the official inauguration of the museum on 19 November 1819. BernardoLópez, the son and student of the great portrait artist Antonio López Portaña, would paint a magnificent posthumous portrait of the Queen that is simultaneously a tribute to her and a telling document of the decisive influence she exerted in the founding of the museum.
The museum opened with 1,626 paintings in its collection, albeit with only 311 on exhibition in three halls. It was open to the general public on Wednesdays, and on other days for copyists, scholars and individuals with written authorization. However, the numbers increased substantially in the years that followed with the arrival of works brought in from the royal residences. Particularly noteworthy, for example, was the transfer of 101 paintings in 1837 from El Escorial at the height of the Carlist War. Even more notable was the delivery, some years earlier, of all the paintings of nudes in the royal collection. Charles III had separated and toyed with the idea of destroying them, but his son Charles IV hid them in the storage rooms of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando (Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando). Also notable, and an exceptional case for the period, was the arrival of "Christ Crucified" by Velázquez from the Benedictine convent of San Placido in Madrid. The owner, the Duke of San Fernando de Quiroga, gave the painting as a gift to Ferdinand VII in 1829 so that it could be placed in the museum.
Following the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833, the first complete and detailed "Inventory and Appraisal of the Paintings, Sculptures, Tables, Vases and other Works of the Royal Museum" was created. The reason behind the appraisal was in fact a very delicate and dangerous situation for the museum itself: the collection was the private property of the monarch and now had to be divided amongst his two daughters and heirs, Queen Isabella II and Princess Maria Luisa Fernanda. However, the royal will stipulated that the collections were not to be divided and when the Queen came of age in 1845, she compensated her sister with the equivalent of three-quarters of the collection's appraised value. Some years later, a law was approved in 1865 by which certain assets that until that time had been considered as private property by inheritance were declared Patrimony of the Crown and therefore indivisible and inalienable. The Royal Museum of Paintings and Sculptures was included among those assets.
Shortly thereafter, the Glorious Revolution (La Gloriosa) triumphed in Spain in September 1868 and ushered in the Six Year Democracy (Sexenio Democrático), the first attempt in the country's history to establish a politically democratic, parliamentary regime. The Queen was deposed and exiled from the country and the assets of the crown were declared Patrimony of the State. The museum was renamed the National Museum of Painting and Sculpture (Museo Nacional de Pintura y Escultura) and went from being only open to the public on Sundays and public holidays to being open five days a week.
The boxes with tapestries by Goya, Bayeu and Castillo were received in 1870, from the basements of the Royal Palace, where they had been subject to robbery. This would mark the final great acquisition from the collection that is far and away the most significant, in both quantity and quality, in the museum: the old royal collection which two dynasties of monarchs with great interest in the visual arts, and especially in painting, had accumulated over the previous four centuries.
Two of the kings, Philip II and Philip IV, were particular enthusiasts of, and experts on painting. The fact that the Kings' personal collection was palatial in nature and acquired for the royal court bestowed it with a singular character, making it to a certain extent subjective, governed by exquisite taste but also subject to the whims of its collectors. The official state portraits as Titian would conceive them in brilliant works such as "Charles V at Muihlberg" and "Charles V with a Dog" marked a specific and unmistakable line that the Spanish court portrait would follow, ultimately reaching its zenith in Velázquez. Philip II became the principal client and patron of Titian and from his numerous commissions the Prado retains two of the "Poems": "Danaë Receiving the Golden Rain" and "Venus and Adonis" in addition to a substantial group of portraits, allegories and religious paintings. That makes the museum a fundamental reference for the mature work of the genius of Venice. Another decisive factor in the subsequent evolution of painting in Spain was the fondness Philip II held for Flemish art. Van der Weyden, Patinir and Hieronymus Bosch were essential references and the portrait painter Antonio Moro joined Titian as the artist fundamental to the Spanish court portrait.
This individual taste, firmly anchored in the colour of the Venetian and Flemish schools, was passed on and further consolidated by his grandson Philip IV, one of the most voracious yet knowledgeable collectors in all of Europe. Eager to bring art to the Royal Alcázar, the Buen Retiro Palace and the smaller palaces of Torre de la Parada and La Zarzuela, Philip IV made Velázquez his court painter. That was merely the start as the monarch almost compulsively acquired the services of Rubens and other Flemish painters like Van Dyck, contemporary artists active in Italy such as Guido Reni, Poussin and claude Lorrain, and drew on the Spanish viceroy in Naples for the key artistic figure there, the Spaniard José de Ribera. He also purchased major works of the Italian Renaissance, including Raphael but especially pieces by Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese and other painters of the Venice school. "The Bacchanal of the Andrians" and "The Worship of Venus" by Titian, "Noli Me Tangere" (Touch Me Not) by Correggio, the "Presentation in the Temple" by Veronese, and "Adam and Eve" by DUrer are only a few notable such examples. His son and successor Charles II, otherwise unfortunate for many reasons, was a king conscious of the symbolic importance of the collection, which he preserved and enriched primarily with works by his great court painters: Juan Carreno de Miranda (author of the magnificent "Portrait of Pyotr Ivanovich Potemkin, the Russian Ambassador", among others), Claudio Coello and Luca Giordano.
Spain greeted a new dynasty in the 18th century, and a new direction for the royal collections arrived with it. Philip V and his wife Elisabeth Farnese (Isabel de Farnesio), who had pronounced classicist tastes, acquired two large collections of ancient sculpture: that belonging to Queen Christina of Sweden, and the collection gathered in Naples and Rome by the Seventh Marquis del Carpio. They also expanded the painting collection with works from Italian classicism: the Carraccis, Orazio Gentileschi, Carlo Maratta, Nicolas Poussin and the portrait artists summoned from France, Michel-Ange Houasse and Jean Ranc y Louis-Michel van Loo. An acquisition of extraordinary value inherited from Queen Elisabeth is known as the Dauphin's Treasure (Tesoro del Delffn): a spectacular collection of 169 glasses, cups, fountains and table settings in rock crystal, inlays of semi-precious stones (pietra dura) and other precious materials from the 16th and 17th centuries, which she inherited from her father, the Grand Dauphin of France.
The reign of Charles III, the Duke of Parma and later King of Naples before inheriting the Spanish crown, was also crucial. A monarch of extraordinary culture, Giambattista Tiepolo and Anton Raphael Mengs, both references in Spanish painting for the rest of the century, arrived in Spain during his time on the throne. He provided the impetus to found the Royal Factory of Tapestries (Real Fabrica de Tapices), where Goya would work. His extensive painting collection included a plentiful assortment of works by prominent artists working in the classicist vein during the previous century such as Van Dyck and Andrea Vaccaro. But Dutch painting also made its first appearance in the collection at this point, including the only work by Rembrandt found in the Prado: his extraordinary "Judith at the Banquet of Holofernes". But there was also a notable group from 17th century Spanish painting: Velázquez, Ribera and Murillo.
His son Charles IV also shined in this part of his role (albeit not in others). An eclectic but always very astute collector, he amassed a great collection in both quality and quantity of tapestries, porcelain pieces, sculptures, bronzes, books, musical instruments, and above all, paintings. Luis Meléndez and Luis Parety Alcázar are two magnificent Spanish painters of the era who had Charles IV as their client. One highlight of his rich collection, for example, was the "Portrait of a Cardinal", a masterpiece by Raphael at his most mature. But above all, the Charles IV collection is marked today by his recognition of Francisco Goya, whom he ultimately appointed painter of the Spanish Crown.
The Museo de la Trinidad
The second major source for the collections of the Prado was the Museo de la Trinidad. In 1836, government minister Juan Álvarez Mendizábal signed a series of decrees suppressing the religious orders in Spain and expropriating all their assets, furnishings and properties. The actual execution of those decrees was left to the provincial governments but a confiscation committee promoted by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts sent out several letters requesting that the confiscated works of art be sent to Madrid in order to establish a National Museum of Painting and Sculpture.
The museum opened to the public on 24 July 1838 in the seized convent of the Trinidad Calzada on Calle Atocha in Madrid. It only managed to accumulate confiscated works from some of the central provinces: Madrid, Avila, Segovia, Toledo, Valladolid and Burgos. Logically enough, the paintings were almost exclusively devoted to religious themes and the economic problems the shortlived museum faced did not even allow for a minimal cataloguing of the pieces.
The quality of the collection varied widely but it contained some masterpieces of the present-day Prado. Among them is the extraordinary group of paintings El Greco created for the main altar of the church of the Colegio de Doña Maria de Aragon in Madrid, works that were instrumental in the final evolution of the mature and highly individual style of the great native of Crete. The monumental "Triumph of St. Augustine" is considered one of Claudio Coello's masterpieces, a major work of the late Baroque period of the second half of the 17th century. The sculpture "Penitent Mary Magdalene" by Pedro de Mena, which came from the church of the Madrid Jesuits, is charged with dramatic feeling.
After the September 1868 revolution, a governmental decree issued on 25 November 1870 mandated the integration of this museum with the Prado to form a single national museum. The initiative, however, was not accompanied by the necessary administrative preparations for the new institution, such as the expansion and remodelling of the exhibition halls and storage rooms, and the provision of sufficient economic resources, materials and staff. As a result, the arrival of a collection of 1,733 new works in storage areas that were already packed prompted serious problems with preservation, storage and even security that the Prado would continue to face during a good part of its history.
This was the point when a solution was reached that the museum would frequently resort to throughout its history. A large number of works were placed on display in different provincial museums, official organizations and various public and charity institutions spread all around the country, even in some of the same convents some of the pieces had originally come from. This practice is now known as the Dispersed Prado (Prado Disperso). this group of 3,000 pieces varied in terms of quality, but included more than a few pieces of outstanding artistic value such as the "Lying Christ" of Gregorio Fernandez, displayed at the National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid; or the series Vicente Carducho painted for the El Paular Carthusian monastery in Rascafria de Madrid, which were recently returned to hang on the walls there after being restored in the museum workshops.
Beginning from the time the Prado was created institutionally as a national museum, a third collection was being created, the New Acquisitions. Unlike the first two collections, the origins of these works are quite diverse: the only thing they truly share is the fact of their incorporation into the museum after 1871. They are composed, firstly, of pieces that were acquired by the Spanish state from amongst the prize-winners of the National Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions that began in 1856. These works continued to swell the collection at the Museo de la Trinidad until 1871, and after that at the Prado. The Museo de Arte Moderno was founded in 1894 and the 19th century works from the Prado were assigned to the new museum. But in 1971, 20 years after the Museo de Arte Moderno dosed and a new Museo Español de Arte Contemporáneo (the immediate forerunner of the present day Queen Sofia Museum) was founded, the decision was made to redefine the boundaries of the collections and the 19th century pieces were returned to the Prado. Together with other works acquired from various sources, it comprised a rich, representative collection of 19th century painting, essentially Spanish in origin.
It is worth emphasizing the significant role the Prado Museum itself played in the evolution of Spanish painting during that century. For example, superb works like "Queen Isabel La Católica Dictating Her Will" by Eduardo Rosaies, and "The Execution by Firing Squad of General Torrijos and His Companions on the Beach at Málaga" by Antonio Gisbert (to cite two works markedly different from one another) display intelligent approaches to composition, some talent for the psychological portrait, and above all a command of colour as the instrument to create ambiance. Certainly these paintings are the creative product of the individual artists, but just as much or more they were derived from conscientious study of Velázquez and Goya at the Prado.
Apart from this group, the New Acquisitions collection has been growing as much through bequests and Donations as acquisitions. They may be sent to the museum directly, to the Spanish government earmarked for the museum, or, since 1980, through the efforts of the Friends of the Museum Foundation (Fundacion de Amigos del Museo). In fact, this collection makes up approximately one fifth of the works in the museum today, a remarkable figure once the traditional disinterest shown by Spanish governments in promoting and encouraging individual Donations and bequests is taken into account, not to mention the habitual austerity and not infrequent periods of outright poverty that the institution has had to negotiate. Since it would be impossible to summarize the slow pace of acquisitions here, we will limit ourselves to some of the main Donations and bequests, and a few major acquisitions.
Among the first great Donations, and certainly one of the most important, was Baron Frédéric Émile d'Erlanger's delivery of Goya's famed "Black Paintings" to the museum in 1881. These are the mural paintings the artist had painted on the interior walls of his own house, the Quinta del Sordo (Villa of the Deaf), in the Madrid suburbs where he lived before going into exile in France in 1824. D'Erlanger bought the villa in 1873, and ordered the paintings to be lifted and transferred to canvas, given their precarious state of preservation. The 14 canvases were presented for sale at the old Trocadero Palace in Paris in 1878 but, to the great surprise of the banker, failed to find a buyer. Finally, their owner gave the paintings as a gift to the Spanish state to be displayed in the Prado, but the paintings were so lightly regarded they weren't exhibited until 1890.
The history of this truly unique series in the history of Western painting illustrates very well the difficult process Goya's art faced in its reception and appreciation, not only internationally but in Spain itself. In fact, the great painter had hardly been represented in the exhibition halls of the Prado before that date. But afterwards, throughout the 20th century and mainly through purchases and Donations, Goya's works would become a fundamental part of the collection. Currently, the Prado holds over half of the known works by the artist.
The evolution of museum bequests and Donation is also significant in the history of Spain. In the fin de siècle period, members of the high nobility played a major role, delivering large family collections which mixed masterpieces with lesser works. Among the most significant was that of Maria Dionisia Vives y Cires, the widowed Duchess of Pastrana, who Donated over 200 pieces in 1889, a high-light among them the group of sketches Rubens made for the Torre de la Parada canvases commissioned by Philip IV. In 1894, the widowed Marchioness of Cabrinana Donated 26 paintings, including the beautiful panel by Hans Memling, "Virgin and Child with Angels". The Duchess of Villahermosa renounced a sale and gave the museum two Velázquez paintings as a gift in 1905 "so they would not leave Spain". But major businessmen began taking on a larger role as collectors with the arrival of the new century. Ramón de Errazu, a Mexican citizen of Basque ancestry who was educated and lived in Paris, bequeathed a group of 25 extraordinary 19th century paintings in 1904.
With the Bourbon monarchy restored, one of the major landmarks in the museum's history was the creation of a body dedicated to governing the institution: the Royal Board of the National Painting and Sculpture Museum (Real Patronato del Museo Nacional de Pintura y Escultura). The board would formally change the name to the Prado National Museum in 1920 and was fundamental in converting the museum into an historical-artistic research centre. That process also broke with the tradition that the museum director should be a painter, and knowledge of art history began to become the primary consideration for the position.
In 1915, the Catalan financier Pabio Bosch, a one-time board member, bequeathed over 90 pieces of Flemish and Spanish paintings, a magnificent colection of medals spanning the 15th to 19th centuries from all over Europe, a collection of 946 old Spanish coins, and a substantial Donation in 1915. Another impressive Donation and bequest came from Pedro Fernandez Durán. His legacy included Flemish and Spanish paintings, led by works from van der Weyden, Morales and Goya, nearly 2,800 drawings from various European schools of the 15th to 19th centuries, and numerous sculptures, ceramic pieces, furniture, suits of armour, tapestries and various other canvases.
The military uprising of 18 July 1936 ushered in one of the most tragic periods of Spanish history. The capital, under siege for practically the entire three years the war lasted, was attacked long and hard by intense bombardments that also put its cultural patrimony in grave danger, specifically the Prado. On 5 November 1936, the government ordered the transfer of all the Prado's masterpieces to Valencia. The operation was carried out in 22 instalments between that date and February 1938, and ultimately moved a total of 391 paintings, 181 drawings by Goya, and the complete Dauphin's Treasure. But during their subsequent transfer from Valencia to Barcelona in March 1938, two great canvases by Goya were damaged: "The Third of May 1808 in Madrid, or The Executions" (Los Fusilamientos de la Moncloa) and, more seriously, "The Second of May 1808 in Madrid/The Fight against the Mamelukes" (Sublevación del Dos de Mayo). Near the border, the International Committee for the Rescue of Spanish Art Treasures took charge of the collection and evacuated it to the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva, where the works arrived on 14 February 1939. On 30 May, one day before the end of the Civil War, the League of Nations returned these treasures to the new Spanish government, which first authorized the Museum of Art and History in Geneva to stage an exhibition during July and August of that year featuring masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, EL Greco, Titian, Bosch, Durer and others. This most dangerous period in the history of the Prado culminated in one of the most impressive cultural and museum events of 20th century Europe. On 5 September, two days after the start of World War II, the pieces Left Geneva to return to their Madrid home.
Almost immediately two major Donations followed, extraordinary for the individuals who made them, the quality of the Donated works, and the circumstances under which they were gifted. The Mexican artist and gallery owner Marius de Zayas gave seven ancient sculptures in 1943 that enriched the museum's not particularly plentiful but exquisite classical sculpture collection. Two years earlier, the Catalan businessman, lawyer and politician-in-exile Francesc Cambó Donated and sent from Switzerland eight panels by Italian artists from the 1300s and 1400s (most significant among them the three panels from Botticelli's "The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti" series) and an extraordinary still-life by Francisco de Zurbarán.
Also particularly important was the permanent deposit of three masterpieces from the Philip II, and one from the Philip IV collections made by the National Patrimony in 1943. All of them originally came from the el Escorial monastery and were actually moved to the museum during the Republic period: "The Table of the Mortal Sins" and "The Garden of Earthly Delights" triptych, both examples of Hieronymus Bosch at his peak, the "Descent from the Cross" showing Rogier van der Weyden at his finest, and one of the major works by the young Tintoretto, "The Foot Washing" (also known as "Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples").
An important acquisition by the museum arrived in 1947: the Roman mural paintings moved from the walls of the Hermitage of Maderuelo. That partially covered a period that had been an empty gap in the museum collection before. It would be further completed (in part) in 1957 via a permanent exchange of works with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. By virtue of this agreement, six fragments of Roman mural paintings from the superb church of San Baudelio de Berlanga, lifted from its walls and illegally exported to the United States in 1922, were placed in the Prado. Particularly noteworthy among the handful of acquisitions made in the ensuing decades was the small panel by Antonello da Messina, the "Dead Christ Held Up by an Angel", undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of the museum.
One of the most important symbolic events in the history of 20th century Spain took place in 1981: the arrival of Picasso's "Guernica" at the Prado, together with 63 preliminary studies and sketches. This ensemble would soon be joined by significant Donations by Douglas Cooper of works by Picasso and Juan Gris, and Joan Miró pieces by the artist's widow. They were exhibited in the Casón del Buen Retiro, sharing the space there with the 19th century collection.
Picasso had been commissioned by the Republican government to paint "Guernica" for the Spanish Pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. Once the Spanish conflict was over, Picasso, a member of the French and Spanish Communist parties, decided the painting should be placed at MoMA in New York. Although he never disputed that "Guernica" was legitimately owned by the government, and his personal desire was for the painting to find its final home at the Prado, Picasso ordered that the work could not return to Spain until a democratic government was installed there. The 1981 arrival in Spain of this icon of 20th century Europe, Later moved to the Queen Sofia Museum, marked a genuine symbolic Landmark of the historic change of course that Spain had embarked on in the Last third of the 20th century.
Also worth mentioning, for its quality and the way in which it came to the museum, was the 1986 arrival of Goya's "Portrait of the Marchioness de Santa Cruz". Exported illegally from Spain in 1983, the Spanish government managed to prevent its auction at Christie's of London and negotiated the return of the painting for a prior payment to the owner of $6 million as compensation, an amount provided by a broad social coalition in Spain.
It would be inexcusable not to mention the bequest of Manuel Villaescusa even in this limited history of the museum. When the Madrid lawyer and businessman died in 1991, he bequeathed all of his assets, consisting primarily of properties and company shares, to the museum on condition the funds were used for acquiring "blue chip" art works. The enormous economic windfall required the formation of a committee specifically to study potential purchases, and over 200 paintings, drawings and engravings were acquired between 1991 and 1998.
In a different vein, another noteworthy arrival in 2002 brought over 2,000 valuable pieces dating from the 16th to 19th centuries, thanks to a mixed formula of Donation and purchase from the Cervello Library (Biblioteca Cervelló). The epitome of the modern humanist, José Maria Cervello went about creating his library when he was a young man with the express intention that one day it might be able to enrich the collections in the Prado.
Despite the few incentives and options that Spanish tax legislation provides even today, the Prado continues to be blessed by the generosity of individuals and periodically receives Donations. The latest and most significant include those by the Marchioness de Balboa in 2002, and particularly Barcelona businessman José Luis Varez Fisa, as well as the very recent one of Placido Arango. Varez Fisa Donated 12 Romanesque, Gothic, Spanish-Flemish and Spanish Renaissance paintings, as well as two Gothic sculptures and a coffered ceiling from around 1400, in addition to two other notable works he had previously Donated. One of the museum's last great purchases also came from this collection: the exceptional "Zarzoso Triptych". In June 2015, Placido Arango Donated 25 pieces from his collection of Spanish painting of the 16th to 19th centuries.
Finally, in thick brush strokes, it would also be inexcusable not to mention the acquisition of Goya's "The Countess of Chinchon" in 2000 (partially thanks to the last remaining funds from the Villaescusa bequest), Pieter Bruegel the Elder's work "The Wine of St. Martin's Day", and most recently, the small panel attributed to Colart de Laon, "The Agony in the Garden", a masterpiece from around 1405 by the French Gothic painter.