For many foreign visitors, one of Valencia’s main attractions is its mild, sunny weather, and the opportunity to enjoy a few tapas and drinks al fresco. When the sun is shining, it seems a crime to spend any time indoors, but visiting the city’s museums and art galleries is a truly rewarding experience – not just for the welcome shade and air conditioning in the hottest days, but because of the unexpected artistic jewels kept in them.
Valencia is a city that has always inspired artists. Its most famous son, Joaquín Sorolla, captured like no-other the bright Mediterranean light and the everyday seaside scenes (still recognisable today) in his paintings. And today it’s not uncommon to find local artists sketching their own coastal views, or some of the city’s main monuments like the Cathedral, or the City of Arts and Sciences.
The neighbourhood of Ruzafa, in particular, is a magnet for artists, whose creative flair is let loose during festivals like Russafart. For a couple of weeks, from 25 May to 11 June this year, local painters open the doors of their studios to visitors, to share with them their passion (and maybe sell a painting or two). There are also painting competitions, exhibitions, music and more.
But if it is the works of the big masters that you want to see, Valencia will not disappoint. In fact, the city is home to the second largest pinacotheca in Spain, after El Prado in Madrid: the Valencian Museum of Modern Art or IVAM. Here you will find permanent collections of local painters Ignacio Pinazo and Julio Gonzalez, as well as changing exhibitions often featuring some of the biggest names in national and international art.
Another obligatory stop is the Museum of Fine Arts, set in the beautiful 17th century building of San Pío Seminary College. The museum has recently added to its collection a previously unseen painting by Diego Velazquez, “Dama de perfil” (Profile portrait of a Lady). It is also home to the only self-portrait by Velazquez in the world, as well as works by Goya and renowned Valencian painters such as Sorolla, Pinazo and Benlliure, amongst others.
It is also worth checking the programme of cultural centres such as Fundación Bancaja. Right now, it is hosting an exhibition by British artist Julian Opie, famous for his minimalist style and cartoon-like depictions of humans (as seen in one of Blur’s album covers), with 30 of his works on display until 25 June. And the Contemporary Art Exhibition, running until the end of September, features works from 14 international artists.
From July, Valencia will have a brand new cultural hub at Bombas Gens, on the outskirts of the city. The former hydraulic pumps factory is a striking example of industrial architecture from the 1930s which has been restored to its former glory. Inside, the Fundació Per Amor a l’Art will have its headquarters with a new Art Centre.
Two of the buildings will house the foundation’s own collection of photography and abstract paintings by Spanish and international artists, whilst the other three will have temporary exhibitions and special projects. The opening exhibitions, from 8 July, will include photography by María Bleda and Jose María Rosa and a look at “disornamentation” in art. Later in the year, a garden, bodega and a building for social activities will be added. And it is here too where Ricard Camarena will relocate his Michelin starred restaurant – another excellent reason to visit!
There are many more museums and art galleries worth visiting in Valencia, and not just for fantastic paintings and photography. You will find ceramics and decorative art at the Marques de Dos Aguas Palace, Medieval murals at the Almudin and porcelain figurines at the Lladro museum, for example. And don’t forget the stunning frescoes at the church of San Nicolás or the Flamish tapestries at El Patriarca. Art lovers are really spoilt for choice in Valencia.
Just remember, many museums and galleries are free on Sundays and closed on Mondays… so that will be the day to enjoy