Madrid's Romantic Museum (El Museo del Romanticismo, previously called El Museo Romántico) was created by Don Benigno de la Vega-Inclán y Flaquer, the second Marquis of Vega Inclán (1858-1942), and was
donated to the state 1921.
It is located in a characteristic 18th century palace in the heart of the city, housing Romanticism exhibits, including important pieces by the leading artists of the time. Other works on display include 19th century decorative objects, while the most famous masters featured in the collection include Goya, Federico de Madrazo, and Leonardo Alenza.
The museum captures the essence of Madrid's 19th century middle-class life through its furniture, china, pianos, and other household objects spread through several rooms.
Portraits of the royal family, military and political leaders, and of popular artists of the time decorate the walls. Some of those artists include Salvador Gutierrez, Ribera, and Esquivel.
Famous writers used to gather in the ballroom for literary evenings, and you may also visit the room dedicated to the life of romantic novelist Mariano Jose de Larra. Other writers who gathered here include Martinez Campos, Bequer, and Campoamor.
The New York Times had the following to say about this musem in an article published in December 2009:
"They can call it whatever they like", said Norberto Mateos, as he stood in a line of about 50 people patiently waiting to enter a Madrid museum earlier this month, but "it'll always be the Museo Romantico to us."
The Museo Romantico, an 85-year-old, small and eclectic museum devoted to the depiction of life in Madrid during the 19th century, and located at the edge of the trendy Chueca neighborhood, closed for refurbishment in 2001 and stayed closed until Dec. 3, when it reopened as the rebranded Museo del Romanticismo (Calle San Mateo 13; 34-91-448-1045; museoromanticismo.mcu.es).
For many Madrileños like Mr. Mateos, the name change - from Romantic Museum to Museum of Romanticism - had gone unnoticed. It was as if a dear friend who went away without a proper goodbye has returned. They eagerly turned up over the opening weekend to step back in time once again to the graciously gilded, tufted, tasseled and embroidered realm that awaited inside.
In line with Mr. Mateos was his friend José Luis Iglesias, who got to the core of the museum's appeal: "It's different from other museums where they just hang pictures on a wall. Here they create a complete environment." With nearly 1,400 objects ranging from grand pianos and wall-size oil paintings to diamond-studded stickpins and toy soldiers tucked into 26 rooms of an elegant neo-Classical palace, that "complete environment" is often summed up in Spanish with the word bombonera - a box of sweets.
Virtually every aspect of 19th-century life, both public and private, is presented in the room displays, from the formal ballroom to bedrooms and a nursery. While the museum layout is not much changed, the new installation packs in some 50 percent more objects - paintings, sculptures, furniture, painted fans, jewelry, carpets, coins, cameos and ceramics - than before.
Each room tells many stories about 19th-century life and taste. Among the novelties of the new galleries is the men's smoking room displaying the 19th-century taste for Orientalist paintings and exotic decorative arts like paisley wall hangings.
Overlapping with the reign of Queen Isabella II (1833-1868), the Romantic period in Spain witnessed a considerable relaxing of social codes and a flowering in the arts, literature and even the press, all of which had been stifled under her father, the absolutist monarch Ferdinand VII. An Empire-style toilet, its seat upholstered in yellow velvet, which Ferdinand had installed for his personal use in the Prado Museum, lends royal prestige.
One of the museum's biggest draws is the portrait of the 19th-century essayist Mariano José de Larra, who became the ultimate Romantic hero when he killed himself in 1837 over a love gone wrong. On the wall opposite his portrait hang Leonardo Alenza's satirical paintings of so-called romantic suicides, including one showing a comically forlorn man about to throw himself off a cliff.
The Museo Romantico opened in 1924 with a major donation by the Marqués de la Vega-Inclán, a prescient art collector and businessman who was also the force behind the first Paradores, the state-run network of hotels in historic sites. This core of paintings, furniture and decorative arts has been expanded over the years with purchases and donations, some from the heirs of writers, artists and other key figures of the era.
While the 19th century is the museum's star attraction, the 21st century is now thankfully present in the form of audio guides and touch-screen monitors explaining Spanish history. An elegant tearoom, overlooking a lushly planted patio, will open in the coming months on the ground floor.
Address: C/ San Mateo, 13, 28004 Madrid
Tel: 91 448 01 63
The museum is open every day except Monday and some holidays, and the nearest Metro stops, both within walking distance, are Alonso Martínez and Tribunal.