New Prado head to end gallery's picture of chaos

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A new director, Fernando Checa, has taken charge of Spain's Prado museum, one of the world's finest art collections, with a promise to bring order to its shambolic internal organisation.

He is the fifth director in six years and the eighth since the dictator Franco died 21 years ago. This staggering tally will no doubt prompt many of the thousands of Britons due to visit Madrid's top tourist attraction this summer to wonder what has been going on.

The museum, which contains the world's most extensive collection of masterpieces by Goya, Velazquez and El Greco, has been beset by a succession of intrigues, incompetence and backstabbing that has led it to the point of crisis.

In the latest and most grotesque blunder, last March, Mr Checa's predecessor, Jose Maria Luzon, wrongly hailed as a newly discovered Goya a painting that was registered as the work of a lesser contemporary.

The ensuing scandal swept Mr Luzon, an archaeologist with no special knowledge of Goya who is considered to have been a grey placeman for the previous Socialist government, out of office.

A previous director, Felipe Vicente Garin, resigned in disgrace after rainwater had been found dripping into the room housing Velazquez masterpieces. Another, Alfonso Perez Sanchez, was sacked for signing a declaration against Spain's participation in the Gulf war.

None of the past five directors has been a qualified curator, a situation inconceivable in any comparable museum in Europe.

The appointment last month of the art historian Mr Checa, 44, a specialist in the 16th- and 17th-century royal collections that form the heart of the museum, coincides with a radical management shake-up. He will be relieved of many of the bureaucratic duties that weighed so heavily upon his predecessors, and he centralises in his own hands powers that had been dispersed and had created bitter struggles among rival mini-empires.