Read about Spanish painters like Picasso in our list of Best Books about Spanish Artists, and then find out where to see their artwork when visiting Spain!
One of the top things about travelling in Spain is that there are so many famous Spanish artists or painters who have called Spain their home. The biggest names in the art world like Salvador Dali are some of the country’s best exports. Here is an inspiring list of books about Spanish art, to motivate you to pick up a paintbrush and visit Madrid’s Prado Art Museum or Málaga’s Picasso museum to see their work when you next visit.
Invest in art, read a book on Picasso!
Who are Spain’s most famous artists?
1 / Diego Velázquez
One of Spain’s famous painters is Diego Velázquez (born in Sevilla, 1599—died 1660 in Madrid), who is considered one of the great male painters of Western Art with his mastery of the naturalistic style. His portraits have a really stirring lifelike quality. A very good and recently published book on Velázquez is The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez by Laura Cumming. It is a fusion of a detective story with a great deal of biographical information of the Diego himself.
Velazquez’s paintings of the Kings and Queens of Spain
One of Velázquez’s most personal paintings, is that of his former slave, Juan de Pareja (born in Antequera, Andalucia c. 1610—1670, Madrid) who was later freed by Velázquez in the 1650s (first painting shown). His loose style on this work, shows the great familiarity he had with his subject Juan and is a much bolder work. In the 1970s it was sold at over 5.5 million dollars, the largest price paid for a painting ever, at that time. You can see this work if lucky enough to visit New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I would rather be an ordinary painter working from life than the greatest copyist on earth. Diego Velazquez
Ethnic Diversity in Spanish Art
If you are looking for a different perspective, finding Spanish artists who have been overlooked in Western Art (ie: women, different ethnic groups, etc.), the 2008 young adult book (and winner of the Newbury Award), I, Juan de Pareja: The Story of a Great Painter and the Slave He Helped Become a Great Artist by Elizabeth Borton De Trevino tells a tale of Juan who developed as an artist’s assistant to become a painter himself.
Spanish Artists made Fun for Kids
Scholastic’s author Mike Venezia has come up with a good series of Artist introductions to children (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists) in engaging ways via cartoon and simple explanation with brightly coloured illustrations of their works. He has done one for Velázquez.
Where to see Diego Velázquez’s artwork in Spain
Visit the Prado Museum in Madrid for his famous royal court paintings. At the Prado see Velázquez’s most famous work, done only a few years prior his death, Las meninas (with a cheeky little self-portrait of the artist). This oil painting shows the princess, Infanta Margarita (daughter of Philip IV and Queen Mariana) with her personal maids, servants and pets.
2 / Pablo Picasso
Spain’s most famous Artist – Picasso
Jump to the Modern century and you find Spain’s best known artist, Pablo Picasso. There are many good art books on Picasso to pick up to get to know this character. Have a lot of time to dedicate to reading about Picasso?
Books on Picasso, Travellers to Spain should read
Try the triptych, A life of Picasso, vol 1-3, The Prodigy, The Cubist Rebel & The Triumphant Years, by John Richards, who had a personal relationship with the artist. This is a fascinating read with fairly unfettered access to Picasso and his works. It was certainly a massive undertaking by Richards and fleshes out this artist like no other book or series.
Where did Picasso get his Inspiration from?
Another about this Costa del Sol born artist, is the very good, The Success and Failure of Picasso, by well-known art critic and writer, John Berger who turns a penetrating gaze on Picasso’s great fame but to what cost, living in exile from his beloved Spain, the ensuing loneliness, separation and inability in his later years to “create beauty again”. Another very intimate portrait, My Life with Picasso, is written by Francoise Gilot, who met Picasso at 23 yrs old and bore two of his children. The Woman who Says No, is a good read as well, with Gilot being interviewed by Malte Herwig about her life as an artist in her own right.
It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child. Pablo Picasso
Family travels to Andalucia – Best Children’s Books about Picasso
Try entertaining the kids with this book series by Scholastic, Pablo Picasso – Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists which is full of fun cartoons, facts and loads of photos. Another great series for children, is Laurence Anholt’s Artists Books for Children series, Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail, in which he tells true stories about artists and their dealings with children.
Best places to see Picasso’s work in Spain
Visit Málaga’s Picasso Museum for a solid collection of Picasso’s work. His home, La Casa Natal is also a museum as well, though doesn’t have very much of his work, but gives an idea of his background. His huge anti-war painting, Guernica, can be visited at the Madrid’s modern Art Museum, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.
3 / Salvador Dalí
Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it. Salvador Dali
Surrealism in Spain – Salvador Dali
What better way to start to learn about fun, crazy, surreal Spanish artist, Salvador Dali than to read his two autobiographies, The Secret Life Of Salvador Dalí by Salvador Dalí and Diary of a Genius. He also wrote a homage to his wonderful dinner parties in the form of a cookbook, Les Dîners de Gala and many more books on his life and works. Luis Romero’s insightful book, Dalí, based on his personal relationship with the artist gives a good impression of Dalí’s sparkling personality.
Travel with Children? A Fun way to discover Spain’s Dali for Kids
He is an irresistible Spanish artist for children to learn about while travelling Spain and so there are some good activity books to get them hooked on Art. A general book on Surrealists is Salvador Dalí and the Surrealists: Their Lives and Ideas, 21 Activities (For Kids series) by Michael Elsohn Ross, which introduce projects for young artists to collages, art from found objects and fun poetry projects
In the fun Scholastic series, Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists, Salvador Dalí is featured, his life and works introduced with cheerful cartoons and photos.
Best Places to see Salvador Dalí’s Art in Spain
The Reina Sofia Museum holds many of Dali’s works but the single art museum that holds the most is the The Teatro Museo in Dalí’s home town Figueres in Catalonia.
4 / Francisco Goya
The act of painting is about one heart telling another heart where he found salvation. Francisco Goya
Next on the list is shock jock Francisco Goya (1746 – 16 April 1828). His Disasters of War etchings series, which chronicled with appalling clarity, atrocities of the Napoleonic war and his famous The 3rd of May, 1808, showing Spanish resistance to the French, are most known and his life is well laid bare by Robert Hughes’ book, Goya. As Hughes explains, it was this work during the Peninsular war that developed Goya and art in general from the Old Masters school to Modern art. It was the 3rd of May, 1808 painting that was said to inspire Picasso’s Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. Newly published in 2020 is Goya: A Portrait of the Artist by Janis Tomlinson, who investigates personal Goya’s life through court documents, his sketchbooks, etc and fills out an interesting portrait of Goya’s family life and tragedy (losing 6 of his children and his hearing) and personal ambition and creativity.
Best places to see Goya’s work in Spain
To view some of Goya’s powerful paintings and etchings visit the Prado Museum in Madrid to see his Peninsular War series.
Virtual Visits Spain’s Art Museums. Do it without leaving your Home!
Enjoy these inspiring books of Spanish Artists and when travelling in Spain visit the museums that house their works. Many of these Spanish art galleries now offer virtual visits of many of their permanent collections.
Check out this Virtual Tour of the Bilbao’s Guggenheim Art Gallery to view Frank Gehry’s amazing architecture and some of the permanent collection.
As well, Madrid’s excellent Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has some Salvador Dali works available online.