Located on the Art Walk, this wonderful museum holds a vast collection that traces the history of European painting from the Middle Ages right through to the late 20th century. Italian primitives, the German Renaissance, 19th-century American art, Impressionism, German Expressionism and Russian Constructivism are the most widely represented schools and movements in the museum, whose impressive collection boasts over 1000 works of art.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection shines particularly bright in the areas which are underrepresented in other Spanish museums. Two paintings from the Trecento (Italian 14th century), Christ and the Samaritan Woman by Duccio di Buoninsegna and The Annunciation Diptych grisaille by Early Netherlandish painter Jan Van Eyck, are the museum’s finest examples of late medieval art. The museum also houses an exquisite collection of 15th century portraits, including one of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Ghirlandaio and one of Young Knight in a Landscape by Carpaccio. Works by Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals and Canaletto help us trace the trajectory of European art between the 16th and 18th centuries.
A visit to the museum offers a wonderful opportunity to study both landscape and genre art, two types of paintings that were particularly popular in the Dutch school of the 17th century and amongst 19th-century American artists. These paintings also inspired Romantic painters, such as Friedrich, Impressionists like Monet and Degas, and Post-Impressionists, like Gauguin and Van Gogh, all of whom are represented in the museum’s collection.
The museum’s ground floor houses a comprehensive collection of 20th century avant-garde works encompassing Fauvism, Expressionism, Surrealism and Abstract and Pop Art. Harlequin with a Mirror by Picasso, Kandinsky’s Picture with Three Spots No. 196, Dali’s Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking up, The Cock by Chagall, Hotel Room by Hopper and Roy Lichtenstein’s Woman in Bath are just a few of the masterpieces hanging on the walls.
The museum’s vast collection is the result of the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s penchant for purchasing works to add to the collection he’d inherited from his father, Baron Heinrich. Initially loaned to Spain for a period of nine and a half years, it was eventually bought by the Spanish state in 1993.
Baron Heinrich started collecting art in the 1920s and during his lifetime he amassed a total of 525 paintings. After his death in 1947, the works were divided amongst his heirs, but his son Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, eager to follow in his dad’s footsteps, set out to buy them all back from his relatives and then continued to acquire new works.
In the 80s it became clear that the rooms in the villa his father had bought in Lugano, Switzerland, to house the collection were no longer large enough and Hans Heinrich started looking for a new location. He received a number of offers from governments and organisations around the world but it was the Spanish government that was most convincing. The baron moved his masterpieces to Villahermosa Palace, a 18th-century building restored by Rafael Moneo which stood just a few metres from Madrid’s magnificent Prado Museum, founding what is now one of the world’s most wonderful museums.
The Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
Once ownership of the collection was transferred to the Kingdom of Spain, the Baron and his wife Carmen continued to acquire works of art. Even after her husband’s death, the Baroness went on expanding the collection, and today the museum includes 16 new galleries to showcase all the paintings.
The Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection reflects the Baroness’ love for landscape art: vedute, 19th century paintings, the works of American artists, and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces form part of it. Her collection also comprises examples of early 20th-century avant-garde art in particular Fauvism and German Expressionism.