The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Spanish), is one of the three Madrid museums that make up the “Golden Triangle of Art”, which also includes the Prado and the Reina Sofia (modern and contemporary) galleries. The collections’s roots lie in the privately owned Thyssen-Bonremisza collection, once the second largest private art collection in the world (after the British Royal Collection). The collection started in the 1920s as a private collection by Heinrich, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon (1875–1947). In a reversal of the movement of European paintings to the United States during this period, one of the Baron’s sources was the collections of American millionaires coping with the Great Depression and inheritance taxes, from which he acquired such exquisite old master paintings as Ghirlandaio’s ‘Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni’ (once in the Morgan Library) and Carpaccio’s ‘Knight’ (from the collection of Otto Kahn). The collection was later expanded by Heinrich’s son Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921–2002), who re-assembled most of the works from his relatives’ collections (distributed after his father’s death) and proceeded to acquire large numbers of new works. In 1985, the Baron married Carmen Cervera (a former Miss Spain 1961) and introduced her to art-collecting. Carmen’s influence was decisive in persuading the Baron to decide on the future of his collection and cede the collection to Spain. When Baron Thyssen decided to open his collection to the public, he initially tried to have his museum in the Villa Favorita in Switzerland expanded, when this proved impossible, a Europe-wide search for a new was home started. The competition was won in 1986 when the Spanish government came to an agreement to provide a home for the collection (the 19th century Villahermosa Palace close to the Prado in Madrid) and fund the museum in return for the loan of the collection for a minimum of nine and a half years. Pritzker prize winning Spanish architect, Rafael Moneo was employed to redesign and extend the building and the museum opened in 1992. However, so impressed were the Thyssen-Bornemiszas with the building and Spain’s commitment to the collection, that even before it opened, they were negotiating with the Spanish government to make the museum permanent. In 1993, the Spanish government agreed to buy the collection (valued at up to 1.5 billion dollars) for $350 million and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum became a permanent fixture in Madrid. The museum currently houses two collections from the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, acquired by the Spanish government from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza on permanent display since the museum opened in 1992 and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, owned by the baron’s widow and held by the museum since 2004 on loan. These two collections comprise over one thousand works of art (mostly paintings), with which the museum offers a stroll through the history of European painting, from its beginning in the 13th century to the close of the 20th century. The Baroness remains involved with the museum, deciding the salmon pink tone of the interior and in May 2006 campaigning against plans to redevelop the Paseo del Prado as she thought the works and traffic would damage the collection and the museum’s appearance. A collection of works from the museum is housed in Barcelona in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Visit the museum’s website at … http://www.museothyssen.org
One of the key characteristics of the Thyssen-Bonemisza Museum is that it complements the Prado’s collection of old paintings and the modern art housed at the Reina Sofía Museum, featuring movements and styles such as the Italian and Dutch primitives, German Renaissance art, 17th century Dutch painting, Impressionism, German Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, Geometric Abstraction and Pop Art. And, setting it apart, its singular display of 19th century North American painting (practically unknown in any other European museum), which occupies two halls of the museum. With the museum’s own acquisitions, it now contains over 1,600 paintings and sculptures, which are laid out in chronological order. One of the focal points is in early European painting, with a major collection of trecento and quattrocento (i.e. 14th and 15th century) Italian paintings by Duccio, and his contemporaries. Among the highlights are paintings by Luca di Tomme, Benozzo Gozzoli , Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello (“Crucifixion among saints”), Cosimo Tura, Ercole de’Roberti, Bramantino (“Christ Risen”), Antonello da Messina and “The Young Knight” by Vittore Carpaccio, generally considered the first full-length portrait painted in Europe. Works of the early Flemish and Dutch painters include masterpieces by Jan Van Eyck, Albrecht Dürer, and Hans Holbein. Later Renaissance and Baroque works include significant paintings by Italian, Dutch and Flemish masters such as Titian, Sebastiano del Piombo, Caravaggio, Rubens, Tintoretto, El Greco, Van Dyck, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Claude Lorrain, Murillo, Rembrandt and Frans Hals as well as wonderful portraits by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Vittore Carpaccio. The artistic shift from rococo through to realism and romanticism is reflected in works of European artists including Watteau, Boucher (“The Toilet”), Nicolas Lancret, Fragonard, Hubert Robert, Jean-Marc Nattier, Chardin (“Still Life with Cat and Stripe”), Giambattista Tiepolo (“Death of Jacinto”), Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto and Pietro Longhi (“Tickle”), English paintings by Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence and Johann Zoffany and the works of Goya, Delacroix (“The Arab Horseman”), Géricault, Courbet and Caspar David Friedrich marking the transition to realism and romanticism. In line with museum policy, from 1960 onwards different parts of the collection began to travel all over the world and a major programme of loans to other galleries was put in practice, meaning that the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection was nearly always present, in some form or another, in the big collective exhibitions.
The collection of nineteenth century artworks includes all the masters, Manet, Renoir, Monet, Degas (“Green Dancer” and others), Pissarro, Bonnard, Berthe Morisot, Gaughuin, Toulouse-Lautrec (“Redhead with White Blouse”) and important works by Van Gogh. American nineteenth century art includes examples by Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. The twentieth century section has a significant role in the Thyssen Museum, and includes Fauvist works by Henri Matisse (“Yellow Flowers”) and André Derain, but it is in Cubism, Russian Constructivism and German Expressionism where the collection is concentrated. Of note is the abundant collection of works such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (“Alley With Woman in Red”), Emil Nolde, Max, Franz Marc, Ludwig Meidner and Erich Heckel among others. The jewel is possibly “Metropolis”, a masterpiece by George Grosz. The ground floor is devoted entirely to twentieth century art, from Cubism to Pop Art. Examples of analytic cubism include noteworthy pieces by Pablo Picasso (“Man With Clarinet”), Georges Braque (“Woman With Mandolin”) and Juan Gris. “Harlequin Mirror” and “Bullfight” are highlights from Picasso’s blue period. Surrealism is well represented, including a number of important works by Salvador Dali. Highlights from the 1960s and 1970s include “Moon Over Alabama” by Richard Lindner, works by David Hockney , Tom Wesselmann (“Large Nude # 1”) and Roy Lichtenstein (“Women in the Bathroom”). A “Portrait of Baron Thyssen” painted by Lucian Freud in the early 1980s is the latest work, and one of three Freud’s in the collection. Other important artists amongst the incredible collection of 20th century artistic trends include, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, Paul Klee, Kandinsky, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Lyonel Feininger, August Macke, Otto Dix, Albert Gleizes, Frantisek Kupka, Gino Severini, Fernand Léger, Rodin, Liubov Popova, El Lissitzky, Francis Picabia, Yves Tanguy, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Joan Miró, Kurt Schwitters, Balthus, Paul Delvaux, Magritte, Clyfford Still, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Ronald Kitaj, Alberto Giacometti, Lucio Fontana, Francis Bacon, Roberto Matta, Richard Estes and Robert Rauschenberg, representing almost every artistic movement from impressionism to hyper-realism. Temporary exhibitions, educational activities, conferences, publications, voluntary, corporate and promotional programmes, are just some of the initiatives that have been put in practice over these years, aimed at progressively increasing the cultural services on offer to promote the collection, as well as to involve an ever broader section of society in the life of the museum.
Two major temporary exhibitions can currently be viewed at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Until 22 May 2011, “Jean–Léon Gérôme (1824-1904)” provides an in-depth retrospective of this controversial French artist. Jean-Léon Gérôme was one of the most famous French painters of his day, but in the course of his long career, he was the subject of controversy and bitter criticism, in particular for defending the conventions of the waning genre of Academic painting. However, as this exhibition shows, Gérôme was not so much heir to that tradition as he was the creator of totally new pictorial worlds, often based on a strange iconography. This exhibition, the first retrospective of this artist’s works to be held in Spain, sheds light on the most noteworthy features of his painting and sculpture from his early career in the 1840s up to his last works. “Heroines” from 8th March to 05th June 2011 is a joint exhibition, hosted between the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Fundación Caja (both in Madrid). The history of Western art is full of images of seductive, indulgent, submissive, defeated and enslaved women. But the women whom this exhibition centers on are strong women. The focus is on active, independent, defiant, inspired, creative, domineering and triumphant women as depicted in art. Following a non-chronological but thematic order, the exhibition explores the backgrounds and aspirations of heroines, through the iconography of solitude, work, delirium, sport, war, magic, religion, reading and painting (the first 5 at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the latter 4 at the Fundación Caja). In each “chapter” artworks from different periods, languages and artistic environments are juxtaposed, providing food for thought on what has changed and what has remained the same over time. And in each chapter, one or several voices of women artists, particularly contemporary women, respond to images created by their male counterparts. From June 28th until 25th September 2011 the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza will be holding a comprehensive exhibition of the work of the Spanish artist Antonio López (born Tomelloso, 1936). It will feature oil paintings, drawings and sculptures of some of his most typical subjects such as the interior of houses, the human figure, landscapes and urban views (principally of Madrid), as well as his still life depictions of fruit and other subjects. In the reality that surrounds him López looks for everyday aspects that he can reproduce in his work, using a slow, highly meditated creative process that aims to capture the essence of the object or landscape.