The Museo del Prado is a world class museum and art gallery located in Madrid, Spain. It features one of the world's finest collections of European art, from the 14th century through the early 19th century.
The most famous work on display at the Museum is "Las Meninas" by Velazquez. Velazquez not only provided the Prado with his own superb works, but his keen eye and sensibility was also responsible for bringing much of the museum's fine collection of Italian masters to Spain.
Pablo Picasso's famous work Guernica, was exhibited in the Prado upon its return to Spain after the restoration of democracy, but was moved to the Museo Reina Sofia to take advantage of a superior space for the exhibition of the immense canvas.
The Museo del Prado is one of the buildings constructed during the reign of Charles III as part of a grandiose building scheme designed to bestow upon Madrid a monumental urban space. This "prado" (meaning meadow in Spanish) gave its name to the area (Salón del Prado, later Paseo del Prado), and later still to the Museum itself upon nationalisation. Work on the building stopped between the conclusion of Charles III's reign and during the Spanish War of Independence and was only initiated again during reign of Charles III's grandson, Ferdinand VII. The structure was used as headquarters for the cavalry and a gunpowder-store for the Napoleonic troops based in Madrid during the War of Independence. Upon the deposition of Isabella II in 1868, the Museum was nationalised and acquired the new name of Museo del Prado. The building housed the royal collection of arts: it rapidly proved too small. The first enlargement to the Museum took place in 1918.
The most recent enlargement was the incorporation of two buildings (nearby but not adjacent) into the institutional structure of the Museum. The Casón del Buen Retiro since 1971 houses the bulk of 19th century art. The Palacio de Villahermosa now houses the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, the bulk of whose collection was originally privately gathered and not part of the State collection, but which well serves to fill the gaps and weaknesses of the Prado's collection; the Thyssen Bormisza has been controlled as part of the Prado system since 1985.
During the Spanish Civil War, upon the recommendation of the League of Nations, the Museum staff removed three hundred and fifty-three paintings, one hundred and sixty-eight drawings and the Dauphin's Treasure and sent the art to Valencia, then later to Girona and finally to Geneva. The art had to be returned across French territory in night trains to the Museum upon the commencement of World War II.
One of the promenade entrances to the Prado is dominated by a bronze statue of Diego Velazquez (see picture above).
Mention should be made of Madrid's other two national museums near by; the Museo Arqueológico houses some art of Ancient Egypt, Mesopotania, Greece, and Rome formerly in the Prado Collection. The Museo Reina Sofia houses 20th century artwork. Suplimenting the Prado with these two museums, as well as the Buen Retiro and Thyssen Bornemisza (all within a short walk of each other), the visitor to Madrid can get a view of the history and scope of the finest art of Western Civilization perhaps to be rivaled in any one city only by the collections of the museums of Paris and London.