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Reina Sofia must-see, famous paintings

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From Picasso to Dalí | Explore the Reina Sofia’s most famous paintings

The famous paintings at Reina Sofia are nothing short of exceptional. With an extensive collection of Spanish and international art spanning the late 19th century to the present day, the Reina Sofia National Art Centre welcomed the public in 1990. Two years later, Pablo Picasso's Guernica was installed, a seminal work that continues to shape the museum's discourse and activities. But is 'Guernica' all you can see here? No, it is here that you will see the works of Dali, Julio Gonzalez, Miro, and more.

Navigating through the famous paintings at Reina Sofia

Year Created
Which room?
Pablo Picasso
Room 205.10
Visage du Grand Masturbateur (Face of the Great Masturbator)
Salvador Dalí
Room 205.13
Snail, Woman, Flower, Star
Joan Miró
Room 205.04
A World
Ángeles Santos
Room 205.06
Woman in Blue
Pablo Picasso
Room 201.02
The Open Window
Juan Gris
Room 204.03
The House of the Palm Tree
Joan Miró
Room 207.02
Girl at the Window
Salvador Dalí
Room 205.06
Sonia de Klamery
Hermen Anglada Camarasa
Room 201.02
Antonio Saura
Room 406
Cards and Dice
Georges Braque
Room 204.01

The truth is that modern art isn't always easy to understand. We see it, appreciate it, and, on occasion, truly understand it. At other times, though, it might be too much to handle. We could simply stand there and wonder, "Is that her nose?” “Am I getting it right?” “What should I be feeling? Or seeing?” “What exactly is the artist trying to convey?” 

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. That’s how we came up with this guide that’ll help you make sense of Dali's surrealism, Picasso's cubism, and some of the pivotal paintings better!


This revolutionary early 20th-century movement broke down objects into geometric forms. The Reina Sofía has excellent examples by Pablo Picasso, like Guernica and Georges Braque, with "Cartes et dés" (Cards and Dice)


Emerging from Dadaism (after WWI), Surrealism tapped into the subconscious mind, dream imagery, and juxtapositions. Salvador Dalí's The Face of the Great Masturbator and Joan Miró's "Peinture (Escargot, femme, fleur, étoile)" (Painting [Snail, Woman, Flower, Star]) are prime examples.

Abstract Expressionism

This American post-WWII movement emphasized the artist's gesture and emotional expression. While not a major focus of the Reina Sofia, you can find works by artists like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.

5 famous Reina Sofia paintings explained

Guernica by Picasso

During the height of the Spanish Civil War on April 26, 1937, the Basque city of Gernika was bombarded by the armies of Germany and Italy to express support for the nationalist forces contending against the government of the Second Republic. This incident inspired Pablo Picasso to create Guernica.

Key Elements

  • The painting uses shades of grey, making it feel cold and lifeless, emphasizing the bleakness of war.
  • Symbols:
  • A screaming woman: She clutches her dead child, symbolizing the suffering of innocent civilians.
  • A terrified horse: It represents the pain and chaos of war.
  • A bull: This powerful figure is open to interpretation. It could be fascism, brutality, or the forces of war itself.
  • No Cause, Just Effect: There are no weapons or soldiers, just the aftermath of violence. It focuses on the human cost of war.

Face of the Great Masturbator by Dalí

Salvador Dalí, known for his eccentricity, has a unique work displayed at the Reina Sofia Museum - The Face of the Great Masturbator. This painting, with surrealism oozing from every corner, delves into Dalí's deepest sexual fantasies. It's autobiographical, with Dalí himself appearing in various scenes. After spending a few days with Gala in Cadaqués, Salvador Dalí created the painting in late summer 1929. Gala had chosen to remain with him despite her husband, poet Paul Éluard, returning to Paris alone at that time. 

Key Elements

  • Central Face: Large, yellowish head with long nose, anguished.
  • Lobster Mouth: Giant lobster instead of mouth, decaying with ants, symbolizes sexual anxiety.
  • Landscape: Sky and barren land, small figures and egg symbolize fertility.
  • Grasshopper: Giant grasshopper with four legs, symbolizes anxieties.
  • Ants: Represent decay or anxiety, found on lobster, face, and grasshopper.

Snail, Woman, Flower, Star by Joan Miró

Joan Miró, a renowned Spanish artist of the 20th century, was quite versatile - he didn't just paint; he also sculpted, engraved, and worked with ceramics. One of his significant works housed at the Reina Sofia Museum is called Snail, Woman, Flower, Star. It's a surrealistic painting, part of Miró's "wild paintings" series from 1934, reflecting the fear of fascism and the pre-war atmosphere in Spain.

Key Elements

  • Abstract Figures: Dreamlike, fragmented figures, hinting at snail, woman, flower, and star.
  • Linework: Bold outlines, biomorphic shapes.
  • Color: Complex background, bright foreground colors.
  • Tone Shift: Possible shift from whimsical to serious or dramatic.
  • Written Words: French title ("Peinture [Escargot, femme, fleur, étoile]") on canvas, part of Miró's incorporation of words.

A world, by Ángeles Santos

Ángeles Santos might not be a household name, but her painting "Un Mundo" is quite the surprise at the museum. Born in Girona, she painted this groundbreaking piece in 1929 without being influenced by European art trends, relying solely on magazines of her time for inspiration. The 3x3 canvas depicts Santos' imaginary world, created when she was just 18 and had recently started painting classes in Valladolid. Her work impressed many, including notable figures like Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Jorge Guillén, and Lorca.

Key Elements

  • Surreal Cube Planet: Giant cube instead of spherical planet in space.
  • Celestial Women: Floating women with flowing hair light stars with moon's glow.
  • Musical Women: Group with large heads, no hair, playing harp and flute.

Woman in Blue, by Picasso

Pablo Picasso's "Woman in Blue" went unnoticed for years until it became one of his significant works at the Reina Sofia Museum. Painted in 1901 when Picasso was in Madrid working for Arte Joven magazine, it depicts a courtesan. Inspired by artists like Van Gogh and El Greco, it was part of magazine illustrations. Picasso donated it to an art exhibition in Madrid, where it was forgotten until 1988 when it was rediscovered at the Reina Sofia Museum.

Key elements

  • Subject: Woman depicted in elongated, gaunt form with downcast expression.
  • Style: Expressive portrait diverging from realism, characteristic of Picasso's early work.
  • Color Palette: Dominated by blue, creating depth; subtle touches of other colors.
  • Emotional Tone: Evokes sadness and isolation with downcast eyes and muted colors.
  • Blue Period: Created in 1901, reflects somber mood with cool blues and greens, typical of Picasso's Blue Period.

Best time to visit

The Reina Sofia Museum is said to house around 20,000 works of art. You will be smart to keep enough time to go over the entire museum. It is also likely that you would want to keep some time aside after exploring the museum to relax before you head back to your hotel.

Therefore, the best time to visit the Reina Sofia Museum would be from June to July, since the sun sets at around 9:40pm in Madrid during that time. You will have enough time to go out into the city after the museum tour.

Since the Reina Sofia Museum is quite popular, you should try to avoid the peak hours. Try to make it to the museum in the first few hours of the day to have a more sedate experience.

Tips for visiting

  • While the free museum map is a good starting point, getting an audio guided tour can provide valuable insights into the artworks and the artists who created them.
  • When biking to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, you'll find bike racks conveniently located near the Sabatini Building and the Plaza Nouvel entrance. For those arriving by car, parking is available at the Atocha station or the Plaza Sánchez Bustillo.
  • The museum is fully accessible to wheelchair users as it is free of architectural barriers. Tactile numbering schemes on lifts in the Nouvel Building and Sabatini Building aid the visually impaired.
  • Most visitors tend to focus on the first floor where Guernica is located.  Venture up to the other floors to see the rest of the museum's collection.
  • The Reina Sofia is a large museum.  There are benches scattered throughout the museum where you can take a break and rest your feet.  The Sabatini Building also has a lovely outdoor cafe where you can grab a coffee or a bite to eat. 
  • If you have bulky luggage, utilize the cloakroom located at the entrance of the Nouvel Building. Enhance your visit with the audio guide provided at the entrance.
  • Please note, while there are no explicit signs prohibiting it, photography within the museum buildings is discouraged.
  • Keep track of room numbers during your visit, as the Reina Sofia Museum's size can make it easy to lose your way.

Frequently asked questions about the famous paintings in Reina Sofia

What are some of the most famous paintings at Reina Sofía?

At the Reina Sofía Collection, you'll find works by legendary artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miró, Eduardo Chillida, and others.

What is the Name of the huge painting located in the Reina Sofía Museum?

That massive painting you're talking about is Picasso’s Guernica. It was created in 1937 for the Spanish Pavilion at the International Exposition in Paris and portrays a cruel and dramatic situation

What is the Reina Sofia Museum?

The Reina Sofía is a famous art museum in Madrid, focusing on contemporary and modern art. It's home to an extensive Spanish art collection, including masterpieces by Picasso and Dalí.

Who is Reina Sofia named after?

The Reina Sofía Museum is Spain's national museum of 20th-century art, officially named after Queen Sofía. Its most famous piece is Picasso's "Guernica," which was brought back from New York's Museum of Modern Art.

What is the story behind "Guernica"?

"Guernica" by Picasso depicts the horrors of the 1937 bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, serving as a powerful anti-war statement.

Where is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” displayed at Reina Sofía?

You can find Picasso’s “Guernica” on the 2nd floor in Room 205.10 at the Reina Sofía.

Can I take photos of the Reina Sofia paintings?

Yes, generally you can take photos, but avoid using flash to protect the artwork.

How much time do I need to see the Reina Sofia?

Plan for 2-3 hours to see the highlights and explore some side galleries. If you're a big art fan, you might want to spend a full day.

Are discounts available on Reina Sofia Museum tickets?

Yes, there are discounts available for various groups, including individuals under 18 and over 65, students, people with disabilities, and more. Check online for specific eligibility.