Fine Arts Museums of Bilbao – Combining Tranquility & Tradition


By Meg Emmitt

I realized the other day why I love art museums.  For me, they are an escape from the daily rigors of life.  Specifically, from the ramblings of my inner voice that is constantly going a hundred miles a minute.  Like everyone else, I suppose, my mind is consumed with trivialities such as what am I going to do this afternoon, what am I going to have for lunch, how am I going to possibly finish this incomprehensible chapter on the philosophies of Hegel by tomorrow, and so on.

Eckherte Toule, the author of “A New Earth” describes this mental dribble as our Ego, or inner voice, and discusses the importance of quieting it in order to find spiritual peace.  Many people find this internal calmness through placing themselves in natural settings or through meditation.  I personally find that silencing of the Ego while I am inside of a museum, interacting with the artwork.  At that moment, nothing else seems to matter and I end up leaving the museum feeling completely transformed, like a whole new person.  This doesn´t happen every time I go to a museum, and I can´t always explain what causes it, but it undoubtedly occurred after my visit to the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes).

I visited the Fine Arts Museum the day after my trip to the Guggenheim and it was certainly a refreshing departure.  This museum is magnificent in the complete opposite way that the GMB is – in its simplicity, its aura of calmness and stillness.  Despite its physical proximity to the GMB, it is clear right when you walk through the door that these two spaces are as different as night and day.  Small scale sculptures, mostly by local or Spanish artists, are scattered about the first floor, bathed in the natural light coming through the glass walls that encompass them.  This initial space visitors encounter is the more contemporary section of the building, housing a wonderful collection of international modern art of the 20th to 21st century.  However, it is clear that the Basque art is meant to be the belle of the ball.

I thoroughly enjoy meandering through the contemporary space on the second floor, before naturally finding my way to the current temporary exhibit, “Joaquim Mir: Anthology”.  Though I previously knew little about the Catalan impressionist artist, I am now a huge fan, and I always give props to the exhibition design and planning of the museum when I am sold on an artist´s retrospective, which I find can sometimes be tedious and monotonous.  My only critique of the modern space would be the overwhelming amount of Otieza and Chillida sculptures which were virtually crammed onto tables in the upstairs space.  It did not do justice to the elegance and beauty of each individual piece.

The other part of this museum, with a very austere, unembellished exterior, houses the permanent collection of works ranging from the 13th to 20th century.  For the most part, the works here are by Spanish artists, with some show stoppers such as Goya´s “Portrait of the Best Moratin”and  El Greco´s “Saint Francis Praying Before the Crucified Christ”.  However, there is no question that the majority of the artwork is Basque.  Most impressive is the vast collection of 19th to early 20th century Basque art, which fills room after room.

My knowledge on Basque art of this era grew leaps and bounds after this visit and I found myself, not only really falling for works by artists such as Anselmo Guinea and Adolfo Guiard, but also feeling as though there was something special about seeing it here, in this unique, charming city.  It was a truly blissful experience that I would highly recommend to travelers who are fortunate enough to visit Bilbao and the people that call it home.

One Response to “Fine Arts Museums of Bilbao – Combining Tranquility & Tradition”

  1. I will not forget Don Garate. When I first cotncated him re: my family of origin, he responded immediately. He offered so much information about a deceased relative, Wenceslao Loustaunau and filled me in on the details of his death. He was a very curious fellow, always had a question, and was as kind a man as anyone would like to know. I was saddened to hear of his passing last year and offer my condolences to his family. A great historian with a heart of gold. May Don Garate Rest In Peace.

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