The name may be a challenge for English speakers, but Madrid’s newest art museum is very easy to love for individuals of any nationality. Drawn from the possessions collected over generations of a wealthy family, the contents form one of the greatest gatherings of paintings in the world.
The museum got its beginning when the Spanish government offered to purchase that collection in 1993 for $350 million and converted the late 18th century Villahermosa Palace into the present site to house it. The family, overflowing with paintings in a Swiss villa near Lugano, Switzerland, took the offer and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza was the result. The museum renovation added another $45 million to the total price.
Though the price may seem high, in the eyes (and calculators) of most art experts the total is worth somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion. Given that the collection consists of over 700 of some of the best paintings in the world that, as they say, is a steal.
Among the works are paintings by Canaletto and Caravaggio, El Greco and Goya, Rembrandt and Hals, Velázquez, Dürer, Watteau, and dozens of other masters. There are works that range in style from Picasso to Sargent, Kirchner to Kandinsky. American artists are well represented including Homer and Hopper, and several moderns.
As recently as 2004 the collection acquired new exhibition space by expanding into the former Palace of Goyeneche on nearby Marqués de Cubas street. In the new space, there are sculptures by Rodin, examples of German Impressionism, as well as works ranging from 17th century Italian and Flemish to 19th-century American landscapes.
One of Holbein’s many Portrait of Henry VIII samples is in the museum along with Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington’s cook. Pissarro’s Saint-Honore Street in the Afternoon is not far from Renoir’s Woman With A Parasol. Picasso’s Harlequin With a Mirror is near Dali’s Dream Caused By The Flight of a Bee. There are lesser-known examples of Wyeth and O’Keefe down the hall from German Expressionists.
Though there are paintings from the 13th to the 20th centuries, the works are well laid out in spacious surroundings. They follow a chronological order and visitors will find it easy to zero in on the period that most interests them.
The formerly private collection was considered second only to that of the British monarchy which is only nominally private since it ‘belongs’ to the British people. It came to the museum largely by the efforts of Baron Thyssen’s wife Carmen Cervera. Another 100 works from the collection are housed in Barcelona.
The results of her efforts, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, with its sleek marble floors and salmon-colored walls is a showplace of extraordinary beauty. With 86,000 square feet of exhibition space in the new addition alone, art lovers will want a lot of ample time to see the collection and its stunning homes.