Located on the Art Walk, this museum’s collection traces the history of European painting from the Middle Ages through to the late 20th century.
Given the wealth and variety of its treasures, comprising more than a thousand works of art, you should start your visit in the section that most interests you. 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.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum collection has its strong points in the areas which are underrepresented in other Spanish museums. Paintings of the Trecento (Italian 14th century), with the work of Duccio di Buoninsegna, Christ and the Samaritan Woman, and the Flemish Primitives with The Annunciation Diptych, a grisaille (painting imitating a sculpture) by Jan Van Eyck, are some of the key works of late medieval art. The museum also houses an exquisite collection of 15th century portraits, including that of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Ghirlandaio and one of Young Knight in a Landscape, the work of Carpaccio. Continuing with the works of Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals and Canaletto, they provide us with further insight into the trajectory of European art between the 16th and 18th centuries.
The museum offers a superb opportunity to study the landscapes and genre works that were particularly prevalent in the Dutch school of the 17th century and amongst 19th century North American painters. These same works were also studied by the Romantic painters, such as Friedrich, Impressionists like Monet and Degas, and the Post-Impressionists, which included Gauguin and Van Gogh, all of whom are represented in the museum’s collection.
The final rooms house a comprehensive collection of the avant-garde works of the 20th century: Fauvism, Expressionism, Surrealism, 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 outstanding works from the last century.
Initially loaned to Spain for a period of nine and a half years and eventually bought by the State in 1993, the museum’s collection is the result of the late Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza’s and his father, Baron Heinrich’s, fondness for collecting art.
Baron Heinrich started collecting art in the 1920s and built a collection of 525 paintings. After his death in 1947, the works were dispersed amongst his heirs, and his son, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, set about bringing them together once again by buying them from his relatives.
Villa Favorita, bought by his father to house the collection in the Swiss city of Lugano, became too small and the Baron decided to look for another location for his works. The proximity to the Prado Museum and the quality of the building he was offered by the Spanish government persuaded the Baron to bring his collection to the Villahermosa Palace in Madrid, an edificeof the late 18th century, which was restored by Rafael Moneo.
The Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection
After ownership of the collection was transferred to the Kingdom of Spain, the Baron and his wife Carmen continued to acquire more works of art, first together and later the Baroness alone following the her husband’s death. These numerous works are now displayed in the 16 new rooms dedicated to the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
The Baroness’s collection reflects her deep interest in landscapes with works ranging from vedutes, 19th century paintings and pieces from the American School, to her most significant acquisitions, namely the collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. This magical tour of the history of art concludes with a sample of the early avant-garde of the 20th century, with prominence given to Fauvism and German Expressionism.