This imposing early-20th-century Italianate stone mansion, set discreetly back from the street, belonged to Don José Lázaro Galdiano (1862–1947), a successful businessman and passionate patron of the arts. His astonishing private collection, which he bequeathed to the city upon his death, includes 13,000 works of art and objets d’art, a quarter of which are on show at any time.
It can be difficult to believe the breadth of masterpieces that Señor Lázaro Galdiano gathered during his lifetime, and there’s enough here to merit this museum’s inclusion among Madrid’s best art galleries. The highlights include works by Zurbarán, Claudio Coello, Hieronymus Bosch, Esteban Murillo, El Greco, Lucas Cranach and John Constable, and there’s even a painting in Room 11 attributed to Velázquez.
As is often the case, Goya belongs in a class of his own. He dominates Room 13, while the ceiling of the adjoining Room 14 features a collage from some of Goya’s more famous works. Some that are easy to recognise include La maja desnuda, La maja vestida and the frescoes of the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida.
The ground floor is largely given over to a display setting the social context in which Galdiano lived, with hundreds of curios from all around the world on show. This remarkable collection ranges beyond paintings to sculptures, bronzes, miniature figures, jewellery, ceramics, furniture, weapons… clearly he was a man of wide interests. The lovely 1st floor is dominated by Spanish artworks arrayed around the centrepiece of the former ballroom and beneath lavishly frescoed ceilings. The 2nd floor contains numerous minor masterpieces from Italian, Flemish, English and French painters, while the top floor is jammed with all sorts of ephemera, including some exquisite textiles in Room 24.
The labelling throughout the museum is excellent, appearing in both English and Spanish, and is accompanied by photos of each room as it appeared in Galdiano’s prime.
Born in Navarra in northeastern Spain, José Lázaro Galdiano moved to Madrid as a young man. He would later become a hugely significant figure in the cultural life of the city. During WWI he was an important supporter of the Museo del Prado, and later built his own private collection by buying up Spanish artworks in danger of being sold overseas and bringing home those that had already left. He lived in exile during the Civil War, but continued to collect and upon his return he set up a respected artistic foundation in his former palace that would ultimately house the museum.