The inauguration of a museum doesn’t just bespeak paintings, sculptures and prints; it’s always a political event that tells us something about the times. Today, the Louvre brand exports its artefacts in excess to whoever can afford to rent them (see the homonymous museum in Abu Dhabi). In 1819, the Prado was being inaugurated during a special moment in history, to celebrate Napoleon’s failure to invade Spain. All the past glories were present (El Greco, Velázquez etc.), as well as he who was the most acclaimed of the living painters. We’re referring to Francisco Goya who famously described the days in which the French troops had invaded Madrid in his painting “The Third of May, 1808” . This painting has gone down in history, yet it wasn’t displayed at the opening; indeed, it remained in the museum’s storerooms for about forty years. Let’s say that it’s hard to process the contemporary with politics always lurking – albeit in the background.
In any case, mounting an exhibition is the best moment in museum life: opening up crates, smelling old oils, hanging up pictures. A canvas gets hauled up and up and up, just like a tree-topper: think of Diego Velázquez’s “Las Meninas”, the painting that revolutionised how we look at (or look at ourselves inside) a painting. It would be worth travelling to Madrid next Christmas just to take a good look at it.