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Prado Museum Transforms Masterpieces to Illustrate Climate Change

The Prado Museum in Madrid has joined forces with the best-known conservation group on the planet, the WWF, to raise awareness about the negative impacts of climate change. Several of the most famous paintings in its collection have been reimagined in a way that spells out the dangers of a changing global weather system. The joint initiative was described by the WWF as, “an original way to shake up the climate change debate.” In its public statement concerning the project, the WWF said that it wanted to engage society in the fight against the global threat of an altering climate and that it hoped it would prompt the public to demand more urgent actions from politicians in face of the emergency.

According to the Prado Museum, the campaign was taken to coincide with the UN Climate Summit that was staged in the Spanish capital in December last year. The idea was to prompt political leaders and diplomats as they met at the COP25 climate change summit with works of art that conveyed the urgency of the situation as they saw it. Four well-known masterpieces from the museum’s collection were selected to highlight several different the environmental consequences of inaction on climate change. “This project represents an opportunity to place art – and its values – at the service of society,” said Javier Solana, the Prado’s president of trustees.

A Change of Plan

The COP25 conference was held under the presidency of the government of Chile. However, the original plan to also host the climate change summit in Chile was cancelled by the host nation’s government following several weeks of civil unrest in the country. Spain stepped in to host the event even though it was Chile that remained nominally in charge. However, this change of plan prompted the leading art museum in Spain to take the opportunity to have its say on the global climate change debate.

Along with the WWF, the Prado Museum put together a small but poignant collection of new images inspired by the old masters called ‘+1.5º C changes it all’. Of course, the figure mentioned makes reference to the rising average temperatures around the world and hints at what may become of the natural world if such a rise were to become a reality.

Reimagined Art

One of the paintings in the collection was inspired by Diego Velázquez’s exceptional image of the former King of Spain, Felipe IV, on horseback. In this picture, rising sea waters have been depicted such that the horse the king is riding is rearing its head up to keep it above water while the monarch is half-submerged with a worried look on his face.

Another of the four pictures in the collection was a version of ‘Boys on the Beach’ by Joaquín Sorolla. In the WWF-inspired image, the boys occupy much the same positions as Sorolla originally had them in but they are no longer surrounded by fine sands. Instead, they are wallowing in muddy water and seaweed with dead fish around them. Joachim Patinir’s ‘Landscape with Charon Crossing the Styx’ also features only in the modified version the mythic river is bone dry and all of the trees on the banks are withering.

The final masterpiece to make it into the campaign was ‘The Parasol’ by Francisco de Goya. This image is converted from a romantic rural idyll into a desperate attempt to find shelter in a huge refugee camp that is trying to cope with displaced people as a result of climate change.

Interested in how museums can respond to the climate crisis? Join us for the Green Museums Summit in March 2022.

About the author – Manual Charr

Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.

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