'One museum, a thousand years of art' is the slogan of the National Museum, and the collection provides a dizzying overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. In recent years the museum has added an extra floor to absorb the section of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection that was previously kept in the convent in Pedralbes, along with the mainly Modernista holdings from the former Museum of Modern Art in Parc de la Ciutadella, a fine photography section, coins, and the bequest of Francesc Cambó, founder of the autonomist Lliga Regionalista, a regionalist conservative party.
The highlight, however, is the Romanesque collection. As art historians realised that scores of solitary 10th-century churches in the Pyrenees were falling into ruin – and with them, extraordinary Romanesque murals that had served to instruct villagers in the basics of the faith – the laborious task was begun of removing the murals from church apses. The display here features 21 mural sections in loose chronological order. A highlight is the tremendous 'Crist de Taüll', from the 12th-century church of Sant Climent de Taüll. Even 'graffiti' scratchings (probably by monks) of animals, crosses and labyrinths have been preserved.
The excellent Gothic collection starts with some late 13th-century frescoes that were discovered in 1961 and 1997, when two palaces in the city were being renovated. There are carvings and paintings from local churches, including works by the indisputable Catalan masters of the Golden Age, Bernat Martorell and Jaume Huguet. The highlight of the Thyssen collection is Fra Angelico's 'Madonna of Humility' (c1430), while the Cambó bequest contains some wonderful Old Masters. Also unmissable is the Modernista collection, which includes Ramon Casas's mural of himself and Pere Romeu on a tandem, which decorated Els Quatre Gats. The rich collection of decorative arts includes original furniture from Modernista houses.