Meet Elena Hernando, director of the Fundacion Lazaro Galdiano Museum Madrid

Meet Elena Hernando, director* of a stunning little museum; the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano Museum (the Foundation Lázaro Galdiano) in Madrid.

By Natacha Scott Lazareff

10 April 2015

Elena Hernand director of Foundation Lazaro Galdiano, Madrid

José Lázaro Galdiano (1862-1947), after whom the foundation is named, was a financier, an intellectual, a publisher and above all a collector. He married Paula Florido who had already built up an important art collection herself and the two of them dedicated their fortune and lives to culture and finally, dying without heirs, they left their collection to the State.

The Lázaro Galdiano Foundation, which includes a museum, a library and the former publishing premises of La España Moderna, the cultural review and publishing enterprise founded by Lázaro, is housed in the couple’s 19th-century home and park, The Parque Florido Palace.  

The museum opened in 1951 and presents a stunning and charming variety of paintings, objects and furniture, including masterpieces by Goya, Boch, Cranach (the elder), El Greco and Murillo.

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The Ecstasy of St. Francis of Assisi (1577-1580)        The Conjuration or The Witches (1797-1798)

El Greco                                                                           Francisco de Goya y Lucientes

© Lázaro Galdiano Museum                                              © Lázaro Galdiano Museum


Elena Hernando, in charge of the foundation since 2010, says the Foundation has a total of 12,600 objects of which only 3,500 are on display.

“The uniqueness of our foundation lies in its extraordinary collection. But in order to encourage locals to come back often, we have to vary the program. Our temporary exhibitions allow people to observe pieces of the permanent collection from different points of view and we also bring in some outside pieces from other collections to add to our own.”

Ms. Hernando has been responsible for the idea of “adding contemporary pieces of art to the more traditional, permanent collections, which encourages a younger generation to discover the classical pieces but also helps the older generation to appreciate contemporary art.”

Every year they hold two big temporary exhibitions, with pieces from other collections “in dialogue” with Lázaro’s collection, and three to four smaller ones presenting different aspects and pieces of the permanent collection.

Before becoming head of the foundation, Ms. Hernando had spent 10 years commissioning temporary exhibitions in the museums managed by the Ministry of Culture.

She confesses to showing an early interest in art: “When I was a child, my parents would take me to a temporary exhibition every Sunday, and without really realising it, I became more and more interested in art. I didn’t end up studying History of art, but didn’t stray too far away, specialising in Prehistoric history instead. I then started working at the Ministry of Public activities but realised at one point that I wanted to do something that I really loved, so I transferred to the Ministry of Culture. And now I don’t ever want to leave!”

When asked what her favourite object in the collection is, Elena replies: “There’s an enormous gilded sword, which wasn’t used for fighting but was given as a gift by Pope Inocencio VIII to the Ambassador of the Catholic kings in Rome at the end of the 15th century. Not only is it a beautiful artifact, but it was one of the first pieces of Italian Renaissance art to reach Spain, which was, at that time, still very much into the Gothic style. So in a way, it symbolises the dawn of Renaissance art in Spain. It was also one of Galdiano’s most treasured pieces, which he acquired in 1912 for the equivalent of 750€, a fortune at the time.”

Finally, as a cultured Madrilenian, Elena Hernando shares a couple of tips about the best things to do in Madrid. “Although tourists tend to flock to the Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen, we are organising another tourist route, encouraging visitors to explore smaller and more intimate museums: Museum of Romanticism, the Cerralbo Museum, the Decorative Arts Museum, the Sorolla Museum and of course the Lázaro Galdiano Foundation.

They all have something in common; in so far as they are all former residences which belonged  to influential figures in Madrid and which are now open to the public with their original contents, giving them a really genuine feeling.”

Finally, on a nice day, she recommends taking a stroll in the Retiro Park, and then heading to one of the many tavernas or tapas bars in the area for a drink or a bite to eat.

*Ms. Hernando was director of the Fundación Lázaro Galdiano from 2010 to 2019. In October 2019, she was appointed General Director of Cultural Patrimony in Madrid.