Where can you find 3 Goya’s, 4 El Greco’s and 3 Velazquez’ under the same roof? If you said the Hispanic Society of America, you’d be right on the money. Tucked away in Washington Heights, the Society – which is both a museum and a library – houses one of the more important collections of books, paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics and textiles from Spain, Portugal and Latin America.
On the first two floors, you’ll find not only paintings by the aforementioned masters, but other works from Spain’s Golden Age (1550-1700) – think Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolome Esteban Murillo. The19th and early 20th centuries are also well represented: one room is devoted entirely to “The Provinces of Spain,” 14 large scale canvases by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida, depicting the country’s regional costumes and cultures.
There are also several fine examples of altars, statuary and tombs of various aristocrats and bishops in Gothic and Renaissances styles with intricate grotesqueries or decorative motifs. As you go through the main gallery, take a close look at the handsomely decorated writing cabinets.
On the second floor, off the main galleries I came across an amazing collection of ceramics, most of which seem to have been made between 1500 and 1800: soft-paste porcelain from the Royal workshop in Alcora, Spain, and tin-glazed earthenware tiles, vases, bowls and plates from Spain, Portugal and Mexico. There was also a small collection of blown-glass drinking vessels from the same period.
The Hispanic Society was founded in 1904 by Archer Milton Huntington a noted scholar and philanthropist, whose collection of Spanish manuscripts, decorative arts and paintings underpins the organization. In addition to commissioning the complex where the Society is housed, Huntington also sponsored archaeological expeditions in Spain and Latin America.
The building, which dates from 1908, is undergoing renovation, so there were parts of the collection I couldn’t see. However, I would recommend that you pay a visit, because what’s on view is worth the trip. You’ll also be able to spend as much time as you want with each piece; on my last visit, there were only a handful of other people. Hopefully the Society’s profile will be significantly raised, now that Philippe de Montebello , former director of the Metropolitan Museum, is it’s Chairman.
The Hispanic Society , located at Audubon Terrace (Broadway between 155th & 156th Streets) occupies one part of a complex that also houses Boricua College and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Be sure to linger a bit in the courtyard to admire the statue of El Cid and the reliefs by Anna Hyatt Huntington that adorn these buildings.
On the last Saturday of each month, the Society hosts Cuéntame un cuadris, an educational program offered in Spanish at the Hispanic Society for families and children from 5 to 14 years old. You can find more information here.