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Museum Known As “Prairie Prado” Celebrates Its 50th Anniversary

The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, with its vast collection of Spanish paintings, is known as the "Prairie Prado," in reference to Madrid's famous Prado Museum. Dimitris Skliris

You might have heard of the world-famous Prado museum in Madrid, Spain. But you might not know of a Texas museum known as the "Prairie Prado" for its prized collection of Spanish masterpieces.

The Meadows Museum in Dallas earned its nickname from Time Magazine in 1968, a fitting moniker for an institution which has built an impressive collection of Spanish masters like Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco and Pablo Picasso. On April 3 the Meadows will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, a remarkable milestone for any cultural center, much less one with such a riveting and storied background.

“It is one of the greatest collections of Spanish art in the world, and it’s the product of the vision of one person,” says museum director Mark Roglán, who is overseeing its golden anniversary and who is credited with growing the institution's unique legacy.

The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Dimitris Skliris

The vision for the Meadows Museum came from Texas philanthropist Algur H. Meadows, who frequently traveled to Spain and would stay at the Ritz Carlton in Madrid. Located just across the street from The Prado, Meadows became a life-long aficionado of Spanish art and wanted to share his personal collection in his home state.

In 1965 the Meadows Museum opened at the Owen Arts Center Building in Southern Methodist University (SMU) right in the middle of Dallas. Just two years later, however, it was determined that many works in the collection had been misattributed and were inauthentic. Meadows culled the art world to find a suitable art director who could steer the Museum back, and found that in Dr. William Jordan.

Jordan understood Meadows’ vision and guided the Museum towards becoming one of the most preeminent destinations for Spanish art. In 1967 The Museum acquired Goya’s "Yard with Madmen", a painting that had not been seen publicly since 1922. A number of works by Velázquez, including "Portrait of King Philip IV," would also later join the collection. Currently the Meadows has the second largest depository of Velázquez works in the country.

Exteriors of The Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University in Dallas Hillsman Stuart Jackson / Hillsman Jackson

Roglán, a native of Spain, joined the museum as a curatorial assistant in 2001. That was the year that the museum moved into its present location thanks to a grant from the Meadows Foundation. His Royal Highness King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía of Spain were present for the building’s dedication.

In 2006 Roglán was named the Meadows' director; since then he has increased the museum's global visibility. Five years ago the Meadows began an official partnership with the Prado Museum. Part of the arrangement includes smaller loans, like El Greco’s "Pentecost," which was shown in 2010. According to Roglán, the two museums have also collaborated on books printed in both Spanish and English.

The partnership has been crucial in the field of scholarship. “One of the most successful parts of the alliance has been the creation of fellowships,” says Roglán. Right now there are two fellowships available in Dallas, one for students about to earn a doctorate and one for those in their post-doctorate track.

The "Prairie Prado" has been preparing for its five-decade anniversary with the unveiling of two exhibits that have never been seen outside of Spain. On April 18th the Meadows will debut “The Abelló Collection: A Modern Taste for European Masters.” It is one of Spain's largest private collections, acquired by Juan Abelló and his wife Anna Gamazo, and spans nearly five centuries of art including Spanish artists like Picasso, Juan Gris and El Greco but also world-renowned artists like Amedeo Modigliani and Francis Bacon.

In September “Treasures from the House of Alba” will arrive at the Meadows. The House of Alba is “the most important historic collection in Spain,” notes Roglán. The Alba dynasty is remarkable not just for their achievements in politics and the military, but also for their patronage of the arts. This collection will include not just major paintings, but documents from Christopher Columbus - including the first map he drew after arriving in the Americas - as well as furniture from the Napoleonic court and even the first Bible that was translated from Hebrew to Castilian.

"We wanted to look at great collecting in Spain," says Roglán.

Roglán hopes that 2015 will bring in new patrons to the Meadows, which has truly lived up to its "Prairie Prado" nickname. When asked how he would define the role of the Meadows as part of the nation's artistic heritage, he remarks “It’s like a permanent cultural embassy of Spain in the heart of America.”