The Casón del Buen Retiro on Calle Alfonso XII (number 28) in Madrid is an annex of the Prado Museum. Its main goal for tourists is Pablo Picasso's painting Guernica.
The building was originally the ballroom of the Buen Retiro Royal Palace, built by the Duke of Olivares and destroyed by Napoleon Bonaparte's troops when they occupied the Spanish capital. Carlos III (Charles III) had it rebuilt and commissioned Luca Giordano to decorate the vault with frescoes. The façade looking onto Calle Alfonso XII dates from 1877, while the fine main western façade was built in a Classical style in 1891. In its role as annex to the Prado, it is made up of two sections:
- 19th century Spanish art
This part of the museum is entered from Calle Felipe IV, number 13, and contains portraits by Spanish painters Vicente López Portaña, Federico de Madrazo y Kuntz and José de Madrazo y Agudo, sculptures by Mariano Benlliure, historical and other paintings by Mariano Fortuny, Eduardo Rosales, Lucas and Antonio María Esquivel, and landscapes and avant garde turn-of-the-century works by Santiago Rusiñol, Joaquín Mir and Carlos de Haes. Many Spanish names, but I did not find it particularly interesting.
- The Guernica
The most interesting and most visited section of the Casón del Buen Retiro can be accessed from Calle Alfonso XII. This is actually a hall, containing Pablo Picasso's most famous painting: Guernica. This is the painting that made the world aware of the horror of the carpet bombing of a small Basque town by the German Condor Legion in collaboration with dictator Franco during the Spanish Civil War. This vast blue painting was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York until 1981 because the Malagan painter had forbidden it being sent to Spain while Franco ruled. A fascinating display of cartoons and sketches for the finished work is also on display here.
If it were up to me, you'd only visit the Casón del Buen Retiro for Picasso's Guernica. But even the painting wasn't as exceptional as I thought it would be. I had seen it in books and on reproductions a lot of times and somehow the magic was gone long before I actually got to see the painting for real. It was not as striking, big and thundering as I expected. Still, it is a must for any tourist in Madrid.
The Casón del Buen Retiro is part of the Prado, so with one ticket you get to see it all. It's just a short walk between them, the Prado being on Paseo del Prado relatively nearby.
Opening hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 9 to 19 hours. Sundays and holidays, 9 to 14. Closed on Mondays.
Admission: Adults 500 pesetas (EUR 3.00). Students 250 pesetas. Free entrance on Sundays and on Saturdays from 14.30 hours.
To get there by public transport, take the subway to Banco de España y Atocha. Bus lines 9, 14, 19, 27, 37 and 45 will take you to the Casón del Buen Retiro as well. The nearest public parking is at Plaza de las Cortes.