On June 20th, the Courtauld Alumni Association gathered in NYC to take a tour of the Hispanic Society of America with Bill Ambler (curator-on-leave). This was my first trip to the museum and, I have to admit, the first time I’d actually heard of the museum. The fact that it’s located at Broadway and 156th doesn’t help the situation, but it was originally intended to be on the edge of the city, in a park-like setting. Today the environment isn’t exactly the same, with Yankee stadium still further north, but the location does still feel somewhat secluded with a cemetery on one side and the river on another.
The institution was created by Archer Huntington, cousin to Henry, the founder of the Pasadena library and the one that we generally think of. Archer collected Spanish art and books long before Henry, and presented the collection as a museum beginning in 1908. Though the library was closed on this particular day, I was able to see the incredible collection of paintings, sculpture, and textiles inside the galleries.
The first artwork visible upon walking in, and probably my favorite single object in the collection, is The Duchess of Alba painted by Goya 1797. But just past the main court to the right is the Bancaja Gallery, housing my favorite group of objects–a series of paintings by Sorolla called Vision of Spain. These are likely some of the prized possessions of the museum as the group of Spanish scenes was commissioned of the artist specifically for this site. There are many more Sorollas hung on the second floor, along with other paintings by Rivera, Goya, El Greco, and others.
The only drawbacks to the museum are in the architecture: limited space to view the paintings upstairs–you’d have to stand on the opposite side of the balcony to see a work from a distance–and minimal climate control–oscillating fans attempted to keep the visitors cool, but probably did nothing for the paintings. Still, the institution is doing everything it can to present to the United States many Spanish treasures, and I highly recommend visiting this gem of a museum!