The Reina Sofia (Queen Sofia) Museum is located in the old General Hospital designed in the 18th century by Fernando Sabatini under the command of Charles III. The building was declared a historical artistic monument in 1977. Its collection stems from the Spanish Museum of Contemporary Art, from acquisitions from the museum itself, and from donations from artists like Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. In 2005 the Reina Sofia enlarged its installations from 51,000 to 84,000 square meters. The Reina Sofia is today one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world and exhibits a key work of contemporary art: Picasso’s “Guernica”. The Reina Sofia Museum, along with the Prado Museum and the Thyssen Museum, form part of the Art Walk (Paseo del Arte).

History of the Reina Sofia National Museum of Art

The building’s origin goes back to 1566 when Philip II decided to move all the sanitary and hospital centers into one area of Madrid. As a result, many hospitals were created around Calle Santa Isabel. The area acquired the name of General Hospital. In the 8th century, Charles III hired architect Francisco Sabatini as the designer of a new hospital that combined the many hospitals into one main General Hospital. With the passing of years the building underwent many modifications and finally in 1977 was declared a historical artistic monument.

In 1980 Antonio Fernandez de Alba began the restoration of the building. The work was finished in 1988 with the addition of three steel and glass elevators located on the exterior of the building.

In 1992 the Royal Highnesses King Juan Carlos of Spain and Queen Sofia inaugurated the permanent collection of The Reina Sofia National Museum of Art. Until that moment the museum had only held temporary exhibitions. Since then, it has stayed as the official museum to which great artists such as Dalí and Miró have donated their own works.

The Permanent Collection

The older part of the museum, Sabatini’s building, has four floors. The new part, Nouvel’s addition, has six floors. The new building is used for temporary exhibits and other purposes. The old Sabatini building holds temporary exhibitions on the first floor and the permanent collection on the 2nd and 4th floors. The 3rd floor is closed to the public.

  • The second floor shows in its 17 rooms the works from the end of the 19th century until after World War II. It mostly has works from the modernists of the 20th century. Highlights include José Gutiérrez’s Solana, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Julio Gonzalez and Salvador Dalí.
  • The 4th floor exhibits the second part of the collection between rooms 18 and 45. Here one can find artists and movements from the 40s to present time. The exhibit ends with some rooms dedicated to art produced in the last 20 years. On the 4th floor highlights include the Antoni Tapies, Antonio Saura and Eduardo Chillida rooms, among others.

Some of the most representative works of the permanent collection are Picasso’s “Guernica” and Woman in Blue, Dalí’s “The Great Masturbator”, Juan Gris’s “Guitar at the Sea”, and José Gutiérrez Solana’s “The Circle of the Café Pombo”.

The expansion of the Reina Sofia Museum

In 2005, the Reina Sofia Museum underwent an expansion. The area dedicated to the permanent collection grew more than 50%. This increase made the Reina Sofia Museum one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world. The expansion covered three buildings: two auditoriums with a capacity for 500 and 200 persons respectively and a library of more than 240,000 books, 3,500 sonorous registries and 1,000 art documentary videos.

The exterior view of the building, with the old Sabatini building and architect Jean Nouvel’s new one, is so shocking at first sight it seems to be two different entities. The contrast of the stone of the old building and the reflective material and glass of the three new buildings provokes an apparent confrontation. However, the majestic covering that unites the two reconciles any dispute.

The extension of the Reina Sofia consists of three new buildings set around a central plaza that serves as the main entrance. In the center of the plaza stands Lichtenstein’s grand sculpture, “Brushstroke”, which eloquently displays contemporary art. From there, it is possible to access the building from the library that holds 100 lecture posts and the latest consulting and broadcasting systems. The 470 square meters of the library hold more than 240,000 books of various subjects. Of that number, 8,000 are art books from the 10th and 11th centuries.

One can also access the two auditoriums from the central plaza. The space is used for concerts, performances, conferences and multidisciplinary activities. The new temporary exposition rooms take up a total of 2,251 square meters and are connected to the old Sabatini building on floors 0 and 1.

At the apex of the area used for the expansion, several public terraces with a view to the boundaries of the museum are found in two of the buildings. In the lower part of the new building, keeping with the contemporary theme, is the restaurant of Sergi Arola, chef of “La Broche”. The restaurant serves the latest culinary trends from what is known as the “author’s kitchen” in a perfectly designed setting.