The Golden Triangle in Madrid: A Beginner’s Guide to ARt

By Abi King | Spain

Feb 08


Exploring the Golden Triangle in Madrid


 Madrid’s Golden Triangle of Art

Three behemoth art museums sit squat amid the leafy avenues of Madrid. Art lovers to call it “the golden triangle.” Not sure if you’re arty enough to enjoy it? Scroll on to the box below. Spoiler alert: art is for everyone!

The least conspicuous museum, spilling from the slopes of the (literally) gilded literary quarter is the Thyssen (well, that’s Mr Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza to you.)

The Eyes of A Wife Killer

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

The Thyssen demonstrates just what happens when scientists are left in charge of curating art. Chemist Thyssen-Bornemisza and his industrialist father before him set about collecting the periodic table of painting: images that represent almost every crucial step of development as art progressed.

  • Thus, you can walk from flat two-dimensional religious paintings and see the development of perspective (hard to believe, but for most of mankind’s history, no-one had thought to draw parallel lines as meeting at a point in the distance.)


Art in Madrid Thyssen-1

Children depicted as smaller adults. No-one had yet cracked perspective.

  • It becomes startlingly obvious when gilded techniques arrive (plus it’s laughable to see patrons snuck into religious scenes from thousands of years ago like celebrity cameos in sitcoms today.)


Art in Madrid Patrons

Well, if you’re paying for the damn thing, why not be in it? Sneaking in at the bottom…

  • You can spot the Flemish masters from the grey outdoor light and flat horizons, the flourish of the Renaissance in Florence and Venice through a blast of radiant sunshine colour. There’s one of the iconic pictures of Henry VIII, much smaller in the flesh: the gilt edged, glint-eyed murdering maniac captured in profile by German artist Holbein.
Art in Madrid lady

Art historians help you to piece together the clues that tell the story from otherwise, er, plain pictures…

  • And then we’re off from the Renaissance into cubism, fauvism, impressionism and all the other isms that confuse the battle-art weary. Yet, in succession, with explanation, they all make sense.
Art in Madrid Thyssen-London

First creations of movement…

Art in Madrid Thyssen-Ballet

Cropping someone out of frame was revolutionary at the time…

Art in Madrid Thyssen-City life

This is city life. How does it make you feel?

Art in Madrid Thyssen-Metropolis George Grosz

Look closely. How does it make you feel? How do YOU feel in cities?

Art in Madrid Thyssen Portrait

Casual portraits with obvious double meanings. Also new.

Art in Madrid Thyssen Strike

Documenting history, not just religion and landscapes…

Art in Thyssen colour grid

The microscope arrives. What would a painting look like beneath one?

Art in Madrid Thyssen - White

White on white. Do you notice anything by looking at texture?

Art in Madrid Kandinsky

Translating sound to paint…

Art in Madrid Thyssen-Broken Mirror Picture

What, exactly, is broken here?

Art in Madrid Thyssen-Dali

Look closely. Can you see why the woman is dreaming the way she is?

Art in Madrid Thyssen-16

Not my favourite. But look at them. Do you feel the same when looking at each one?

Art in Madrid Thyssen-Orange

It’s only colour. But look at it. Do you feel calm? Peaceful? Sleepy? Or something else? How can someone else affect your feelings like that?

  • They also help illustrate how no genius nor art movement works in isolation.

Is it worth visiting the Golden Triangle without a degree in Fine Art?


This is an article I’ve tried to write a thousand times. Or ten at the very least and that’s long enough for me. Rarer still, I’ve navel gazed, wondering after drafts one, two, three (and the rest) what it is about art in Madrid that slows me down.

You see, it’s not personal (and yet it is.)

It’s a fascinating subject – and yet I fear it will bore you.

It’s a fact filled subject – and yet the facts are not important.

In reality, it’s nothing short of a total re-examination of the way of the way I thought about art in Spain (or indeed in the world at large.)

And either it will be a revelation for you. Or, it will not, and I will look foolish.

There, that’s the bug with writing this piece. In fact, I think that’s what stops so many of us from thinking about and appreciating art overall. Somewhere, quietly perhaps, or blazing along like merry decibels in the sky, we’ve got the notion that art is something we have to be clever about.

Something that has to be taught, something that’s wildly pretentious, something that’s not for people like us.

The spoiler alert for this whole shindig is, of course, that art is exactly for people like us because art is exactly for people. Not certain people, not qualified people. All people. (Although, even I can spot the irony in this rabble rousing paragraph in that it was hyper-qualified art folk who helped me to realise this.)

But never mind. As one guy said (who was good with a paintbrush)

 Art washes away the dust from everyday life. Picasso.

Art may well wash away the dust of daily life, but the art world often washes away ideas, enjoyment and curiosity in those who don’t breathe its jargon.

Well, I’m here today to tell you that’s rubbish. You don’t need to “know” art to like it. But a little bit of knowledge does make more of it come to life.

And when it comes to having so much of it all in one place, there’s no better place than Spain.

Madrid, in particular, with a side trip to Barcelona.


I love Spain and have visited many times and even lived there for a while. On this occasion, I visited in partnership with iAmbassador and Madrid Tourism and stayed at the NH Palacio de Tepa (which, interestingly enough lives in a former 19th century palace in the literary quarter. )As ever, as always, I kept the right to write what I like. And, as is probably obvious, I am not a qualified art historian, just someone with a passion for washing away the dust of everyday life. Cheers!


About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more.

  • Jenna says:

    I nodded in agreement through the first half of post (and loved all your observations in the second half). It can be hard to know what to say about art. I have a degree in art history and still write about art from time to time on my blog (as part of the ArtSmart group), but I always try to find art topics that any reader would enjoy and to make it interesting or at least accessible. You’ve chosen many excellent examples of what can make art so interesting to everyone–seeing how it changes over time and looking for the meaning that might not be apparent at first glance.

    • Abi King says:

      Ah, Jenna, I can’t believe you found this piece! It was your writing (some time ago) that actually gave me my first taste of art history. I’d really shunned it before then, preferring not to know and just to look. What a small world! So, in terms of making your posts interesting and accessible you’ve succeeded in a massive way with me at least! (Thanks, also, for the reassurance about the examples I picked. It’s a new subject for me and a little daunting… I’m thrilled!) Ps – what’s the ArtSmart group?

  • tea in tangiers says:

    Definitely putting this on fileas I hope to get to madrid this year – great piece.

    • Abi King says:

      Glad to hear it – Madrid’s such an interesting city. There is SO much going on in such a small space. Have a great time (and let me know how many of these you spot!)

  • De'Jav says:

    Once of the best cities that has so much to offer in regards to art. Great post!!

    • Abi King says:

      Agreed. Yet somehow I think that’s less well known than, say, London, Paris or New York. Or, at least, I didn’t know that for a long time!

  • Kirsten says:

    Whether because I am the daughter of an artist, or by my own means — or both; I love art and visiting art museums as I travel the world is one of my favorite ways to discover a new place. Thanks for sharing this, now I must also visit Madrid. Though, I did already want to, now I will just make sure not to miss the art in Madrid!!

    • Abi King says:

      For me, looking back at this, I think the transformation came when looking at it in terms of evolution of ideas…Before, I’d just look at one piece on its own and either find it moving – or not! But these guides really made me see things in a different way – and I’m so glad that they did! Am sure you will get to Madrid soon, Kirsten. There’s a lot of modern stuff going on as well – which I will get to later in this series. But just in case anyone’s heading to Madrid before I manage to write all this up – it’s not all the Golden Triangle and Guernica! There’s more on the way!

  • Rachel says:

    I totally agree with you, and I would admit that I barely know any artists aside from those who are famous, but when I see art, I would totally be struck, amused, having indescribable feeling especially towards abstract arts.. I mean, how would you even know how the artist feel or what he/she’s trying to show? I don’t know.

    • Abi King says:

      With some abstract art, I can’t help but wonder if the artists are laughing at us ;-) But the guide I was with gave me an interesting experiment: she MADE me say something about one picture – about how it made me feel or (when I faltered at that) she asked me about various emotions and forced me to give a yes or no response. Then she repeated the whole thing at the next painting. It was embarrassing at first but then it really got me thinking and feeling about the differences. Who knows if it’s deeply profound or…random. But it’s an interesting experiment nonetheless.

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