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Masterworks from Budapest. From the Renaissance to the Avant-Garde

From 18 February to 28 May 2017

Lucas Cranach, the Elder
Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist, ca. 1526-1530
Oil on panel. 88.4 x 58.3 cm
Budapest, Museum of Fine Arts
Thyssen-Bornemisza Barons

Duccio, Van Eyck, Carpaccio, Lucas Cranach, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, Hopper, Rauschenberg ... These are just some of the great masters of art history whose works are on display at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. The museum currently houses two collections from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collector-lineage: the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, acquired by the Spanish government from Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1993 and on permanent display since the museum opened in 1992; and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, owned by the baron’s widow and held in deposit by the museum since 2004. These two collections comprise almost one thousand works of art, most of them paintings, with which the museum offers a stroll down the history of European painting, from its beginning in the 13th century to the close of the 20th century.


Standing almost opposite the Prado Museum and very near the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum, this new museum, which architect Rafael Moneo was commissioned to design, was the missing cornerstone that finally sealed the triangle of art. With the presence of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, the most important private collection in the world before it was acquired by the Spanish state in June 1993 for 350 million dollars, few cities can match Madrid’s appeal for art lovers.

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 Europe, which occupies two halls of the museum.

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen–Bornemisza de Kaszon

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen–Bornemisza de Kaszon

Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza

The history and origins of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection tell one of the most fascinating tales of private collecting. Although the collection boasted worldwide renown, when the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum opened in Madrid in October 1992, showcasing the core of the collection together for the very first time, one thing that prompted most admiration was that such a large number of works, and such quality works, had been collected in just two generations. It was, without a doubt, the most important private art collection of the 20th century.

Apart from a brief but interesting forerunner in the person of the baron’s grandfather, August Thyssen, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection is the fruit of the collectors’ zeal of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father, Heinrich, the first Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, who started it in the 1920s. He was interested mainly in ancient art and amassed some 525 paintings until his death in 1947. The first public exhibition of the works he had collected was held in 1930 at the Alte Pinakothek Museum in Munich. Two years later, in order to house an ever-growing collection, the baron bought Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland, from Prince Leopold of Prussia. When the baron died, the collection was divided up among his heirs, and the youngest of his four children and the one who had inherited the title, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, bought back works from his relatives and put the collection together again. To start with, he continued to buy antique painting, but later, in the sixties, he began the Modern Masters’ Collection. Initially he focused on German Expressionism, an art form labelled as "degenerate art” by the Nazis who destroyed a large number of these works. Little by little, the baron’s fascination for German Expressionism led to him to acquire the works of Russian avant-garde artists and other pioneers of abstract art. Thus he came to own major Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works, European painting from the start of the 20th century, post-war English painting – Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, etc. – and North American painting from the 19th and 20th centuries.

Villa Favorita - Lugano, Suiza

Villa Favorita

The collection outgrew Villa Favorita (where only 300 paintings could be displayed) so the baron decided to look for a new home for his works. The quality of the building in Madrid offered by the Spanish state and, in particular, its proximity to the Prado Museum, influenced his decision to move the collection to Spain. And it was there in Madrid, in the 19th century Villahermosa Palace, where the all but complete collection was showcased for the very first time. The permanent installation of the collection in Spain was thought to be the culmination of that relatively short but very intensive collecting spree, but not so. Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza picked up the baton and, continuing in the family tradition, has had her own collection for some years now, which includes both the legacy of the works left by her husband and an ever-growing number of new acquisitions.

Inside the Palacio de Villahermosa

Inside Villa Favorita

The origins of a great collection

August Thyssen (1842-1926) was the founder of the Thyssen family’s financial empire, which had its roots in the iron and steel industry. Although he was blessed with great artistic sensitivity, August Thyssen did not have time to devote to collecting art until his later life. Keen to build up a collection of sculptures, he turned to the most famous and important sculptor of his day, Auguste Rodin. The outcome of this relationship between the German industrialist and the French sculptor was a magnificent series of seven marble sculptures. The outbreak of the First World War interrupted this first foray into art collecting in the family. August Thyssen died in the post-war years, at a time when the German economy was in serious difficulties. The sculptures remained in the possession of a branch of the Thyssen family in Germany until 1956, when they were put on sale and acquired by Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza.

August Thyssen - (1842-1926)

August Thyssen - (1842-1926)

Four of them now form part of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. The correspondence that survives between Rodin and August Thyssen, and in particular a letter dated 1911, goes to show that the son of the German industrialist, Heinrich – the third of seven children – was starting his own art collection. However very little is known about its early years. Heinrich Thyssen, who held a PhD from London University, married Baroness Margit Bornemisza de Kaszon, the daughter of a Hungarian nobleman, in 1905. Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, whose new companies were completely detached from the iron and steel industry, set up residence in Hungary, in Schloss Rohoncz Castle, owned by his wife’s family, and established the collection there. In 1919, the Bela Kun revolution forced him to leave Hungary, and he moved his businesses to Amsterdam, the city where his son, Hans Heinrich, was born in 1921.

Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza: a passion for art

Heinrich Thyssen (1875-1947)

Heinrich Thyssen (1875-1947)

Despite the economic difficulties of the post-war, Heinrich Thyssen (1875-1947) continued to collect paintings throughout the 1920s, albeit very discreetly, and when his collection (known then as the Schloss Rohoncz Collection) was first exhibited in 1930, in the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, it caused a real stir among art historians of the time. Its success encouraged the Baron to continue collecting and to buy sculptures, furniture, tapestries, jewellery and other works of art, as well.

In the period between the two world wars, many private collections were disbanded. With skill, intuition and the advice of top specialists, Heinrich Thyssen engaged in an intensive policy of acquisitions. Initially he focused on German primitives. Soon, his collection boasted key works from that school by artists such as Hans Balding Grien, Altdorfer, Dürer, Cranach and Holbein. Following in the tradition of German collectors, the baron was also very fond of Dutch painting, and his collection grew with names of the rank of Robert Campin, Petrus Christus, Roger van der Weyden, Jan van Eyck, Memling and John of Flanders. However, his interest did not stop at the Northern Renaissance, and he also acquired Italian paintings, such as the Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Portrait of a Knight by Carpaccio, Portrait of Ferry Carondolet with his Secretaries by Sebastiano del Piombo and Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Caravaggio. In time, other key names in art history were added to those illustrious artists: from England, painters such as Gainsborough and Reynolds; from France, Watteau, Fragonard and Chardin from France; and from Italy, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiépolo, Canaletto and Guardi...

With the future of the collection in mind, he decided to move to Switzerland, the only European country at that time, the 1930s, that seemed to guarantee a peaceful location. In 1932 he bought a villa on the banks of Lake Lugano, known for centuries as Villa Favorita; a palace built in 1687 which belonged to Prince Leopold of Prussia. While continuing to buy works of art to add to his collection, Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza built a gallery in the garden of Villa Favorita to house the paintings in the best possible conditions for an art gallery and to put them on show to the public.

In 1936, the work on the Villa Favorita Gallery was completed and it opened. Unfortunately, the start of the Second World War interrupted the project and Heinrich Thyssen was forced to close it in 1939. It opened again in 1949, this time permanently and thanks to his son, Hans Heinrich, who took up the baton passed to him by his father, who died in 1947. After the death of the first Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, who by then had collected some 525 works of art, the collection was divided up among his four children. At the age of just 26, Hans Heinrich decided to continue in his father’s footsteps – the only member of the family to do so – and he also took over the running of the family business. His brother, who was involved in biological research, was not interested in the business or in the collection, while his two sisters forced the art collection compiled by their father and left as a legacy to his heirs, to be split up. Despite the difficult circumstances brought on by the war, and with the aid of financial compensation and a great deal of sacrifice, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002) managed to keep the bulk of the collection intact, but not all of it. That recovery process continued over time, and in 1988 he bought back Paradise by Brueghel from one of his sisters. This experience in his youth was to prove important when, thirty years later, he was forced to weigh up what to do with the collection once again.

More than an heirloom and a family tradition: Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza

The challenge of recovering the works that had belonged to his father and had been split up was his great spur in those early years, both in his business dealings, where he went from success to success, and as a collector. In 1956 he bought a painting from someone outside the family for the very first time: Portrait of a Man by Francesco del Cossa, which came from the Jan von Pannwitz Collection.

Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002)

Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (1921-2002)

Although his main aim was to continue in the family tradition, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza went still further, turning his attention to periods of art that had not attracted the interest of his father, most of them paintings from the 19th and 20th centuries. In the first few years, he added important old masters such as Christ and the Samaritan by Duccio, Still Life with a Nautilus Cup by Willem Kalf, Western Façade of St Mary´s Church at Utrecht by Jansz Saenredam, La Toilette by François Boucher and Asensio Julià by Goya. The change of focus took place at the start of the sixties, when he started to collect modern art. From then on, and with an already legendary skill in recognising exceptional quality in works of art, he broadened the scope of the collection, embracing all the important movements in modern art. In 1961 he acquired his first 20th century painting, a watercolour by the German painter, Emil Nolde. That same year he bought an important set of expressionist paintings. That art movement, that had been persecuted by the Nazis, drew his attention to modern art. German Expressionism appealed to him not only for its artistic value, but also for the historical context in which it developed. Declared to be “degenerate art” by the Nazis, it was persistently persecuted, banned and seized. What interested the baron were the human values and testimonials expressed in those paintings (more precisely, “the colour and freedom of expression” conveyed by Expressionist paintings) and he gathered together a very representative selection and formed an important collection that was one of the best of its kind.

This special fascination for German expressionists gradually led him to acquire works that spanned the whole spectrum of modern art, with special emphasis on Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, European Painting from the turn of the 20th century, a very representative collection of Russian avant-garde and Central European art, with works by Picasso, Braque, Léger, etc., English post-war paintings (Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud), stretching right up to Pop Art and Hyperrealism.

Another important aspect of the collection was North American painting from the 19th and 20th centuries. The baron started collecting these paintings, mainly ones from the 19th century North American school, at a time when there was little interest in them, even in the United States itself. Nowadays they are highly prized, in Europe as well. This section filled a major gap in European museums and made the collection a key reference point for everyone interested in this school of art.

With all these new acquisitions, the Lugano Gallery was no longer able to house more than part of the collection: the Old Masters, and occasionally works of Modern Masters. This prompted the idea to hold temporary exhibitions in other countries, which would also allow for the collection to gain international prominence. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection has always been on the move. While the baron’s father enlarged Villa Favorita in order to open it to the public and also organised the first touring art show in Munich in 1930, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza promoted a policy of openness, access and exchange, simply with a view of encourage cultural rapprochement between different groups of people.

A travelling collection

In line with that 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 second temporary exhibition, this time called the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, was held in 1960 in Essen. A year later, the National Gallery in London staged the exhibition ‘From Van Eyck to Tiépolo. An exhibition of paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection’. In the 1970s, a number of exhibitions featuring modern art from the collection were held in Germany, Japan, Belgium, France, Australia and New Zealand. From 1979 to 1981, the exhibition ‘Paintings by the Old Masters from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection’ toured nine cities in the United States. In the 1980s, an exhibition of modern and North American masters toured Europe, the United States and Japan. The North American masters exhibition series in the United States earned the collection of North American art the recognition it deserved, and exhibitions of abstract art, 19th century North American painting, expressionist and modern German painting, and exhibitions of gold and silver items, were staged in a number of places.

The exhibitions held in Russia on three separate occasions – in 1983, in St Petersburg and Kiev; in 1987, in Moscow and St Petersburg; and in 1988, in Novosibirsk, Siberia – had the effect of prompting an exchange, and Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works from the Hermitage and Pushkin Museum were exhibited in Villa Favorita in 1983. This swap marked an important landmark in enhancing cultural relations between the USSR and western countries, and also heralded the start of a new programme of temporary exhibitions at the home of the collection, in Switzerland. Amongst others, Villa Favorita hosted an exhibition of paintings by Goya drawn from several private collections in Spain, another on masterpieces from Hungarian museums, and an exhibition of North American impressionist paintings from US collections.

The two shows held in Madrid: the Modern Masters in 1986, at the National Library, and the Old Masters exhibition in 1987, at the San Fernando Fine Art Academy, were important, too, from the point of view of the future of the collection. On both occasions they attracted a great response from the public.

During that period, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza was starting to think about the future of his collection. In view of what had happened after the death of his father, his main concern was to ensure that the collection was not split up again. In the meantime, a new building was needed to permanently house new acquisitions. Initially, the idea was to extend the Villa Favorita Gallery, and a tender for bids prompted the re-appraisal of the original draft project put forward by the British architect, Robert Stirling. However, the idea was eventually shelved. Then bids started to come in, offering to install the collection outside Switzerland. Bids from the United States (from the Getty Foundation), and from the British, German and Spanish governments were singled out, but little by little, the Spanish bid gained ground on the others. The conditions it offered for the stability of the collection and its public profile were unbeatable. A key factor in its favour was the exceptional location of the building to house the museum. Not only was Villahermosa Palace in the city centre itself, but it was almost opposite the Prado and very near the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum. The task performed by BaronessThyssen-Bornemisza in this process should not be forgotten. Carmen Cervera, who is Spanish, married the baron in 1985 and always shared his wish for the collection to stay together, to be put on public display and to

Facade of the Palacio de Villahermosa

Facade of the Palacio de Villahermosa

The eventual installation of the collection in Spain was the outcome of a gradual process and carefully thought out agreements between Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Spanish government. In the late 1980s, the Spanish press began to talk about possible contacts between the two parties. At the beginning of 1988, the Duke of Badajoz, Luis Gómez Acebo, who played a key role in making the initial contacts, announced that a decision was imminent. Sure enough, in March that year, the Spanish Minister for Culture, Javier Solana, confirmed that the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection would be housed in Spain for a minimum of nine and a half years, with the possibility of negotiating a permanent installation. A few days later, the baron himself, during a presentation of Old Masters in London, announced that the collection was going to Spain, by way of a temporary loan.

On April 7th, 1988, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Minister of Culture, Javier Solana, signed a letter of intent according to which 775 paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection could be exhibited in Spain. The protocol provided for a loan for nine and a half years, leaving open the possibility of fresh negotiations to secure a permanent transfer.

Villahermosa Palace was renovated by Rafael Moneo

Villahermosa Palace was renovated by Rafael Moneo

The loan agreement and setting up the Foundation

The possibility of Spain housing the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection crystallised on December 20th, 1988, in the form of a loan agreement signed by and between the kingdom of Spain and Favorita Trustees Limited, the body that owns the Collection. According to the contract, the most important works of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection would be delivered to the kingdom of Spain to be put on display at Villahermosa Palace in Madrid and the Monastery of Pedralbes in Barcelona for a period of nine and a half years. In exchange, the government would provide a building, Villahermosa Palace, that would be restored, and a foundation would set up, funded by the government with sufficient funds to run the museum. In consideration, an annual financial contribution of five million dollars was established for the owners of the collection for the term of the loan.

On the same date, a foundation was set up between the Spanish government, represented by Jorge Semprún, the then Minister for Culture, and Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation was set up as a non-profit-making, private cultural foundation to promote and provide services for art. Its role is to maintain, conserve, exhibit to the public and promote the works of art that form part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in the Foundation’s possession and the museum that housed them, as well as to support it financially.

The Foundation set to work immediately. A board was set up, comprising five members on behalf of the Spanish government and five on behalf of the owners of the collection. A managing director was appointed as well as a head curator. At the first board meeting, the architect, Rafael Moneo, was entrusted with the task of re-designing Villahermosa Palace.

Redesigning Villahermosa Palace, and transferring and installing the works

For the next three years, the priority for the team at the Foundation was to transform Villahermosa Palace in Madrid, adapt it for its new purpose and plan how to distribute the paintings in the 48 rooms that make up the museum. On March 2nd, 1990, the first stone was laid and news of Rafael Moneo’s project was announced to the media.

The works progressed at a steady pace, despite having to design and build a completely new space in the museum. In 1991, the finishing touches were made, and the heating, security, lighting and electricity installed.

On May 13th, 1992, at a press conference attended by Her Royal Highness Princess Pilar de Borbon, the Minister for Culture, Jordi Solé Tura, Baron and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza and Rafael Moneo, the refurbished palace, which was now ready to house the almost 800 works of art from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection coming to Spain, was presented to the media.

During the summer of 1992, and according to a detailed plan drawn up by representatives of the Foundation in Madrid, in collaboration with Villa Favorita, the works of art were moved to Spain from the historic home of the collection in Lugano.

In just two months (June and July 1992), over 900 pieces were transported without having to make any changes to the original transfer plan. The works were brought over by plane and lorry, using land transport for the large works and delicate items. Special packing cases were made for each item, using the latest and most modern international techniques to pack the works of art. The packaging was done at Villa Favorita under the supervision of restorers and curators, who filled out forms to record the condition of the works before they left. The security plan to protect the works during their transport was also drawn up in minute detail. The specialists who had supervised the packing in Switzerland then took delivery of and opened the boxes in Villahermosa Palace, filling out new forms to check whether the works had sustained any damage. No damage was found in any of the works that were moved and, little by little, each of them took their designated place in the new rooms according to the installation plan.

Inauguration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid

The official opening of the museum took place on October 8th and was attended by the King and Queen of Spain. Two days later it was opened to the public. The large queues that circled the building were evidence of the interest and expectation that the installation of the collection in Spain had aroused. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum thus added to the wide range of cultural activities on offer in Madrid, making it one of the world’s top art capitals.

Official opening was attended by the Kings of Spain

Official opening was attended by the Kings of Spain

The opening of the museum highlighted how extraordinarily well the collection complemented the works of art on display at the Prado Museum and in other public Spanish collections. Movements and moments from the history of painting with but a sketchy presence in Spanish art galleries were well represented in the new museum, mainly those related to modern art --19th and 20th century works, with special emphasis on Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, German Expressionism, the early Avant-garde movements etc. and, as mentioned above, the 19th century North American School, practically non-existent in European museums; as well as reinforcing the presence of other periods, such as the German School and Dutch painting from the 17th century.

Its presence in Spain has not only enriched the art gallery panorama in the country but also Madrid’s already considerable offering of art, perfectly rounding off the so-called Art Triangle or Walk, in conjunction with the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofía Modern Art Museum.

Purchasing the collection

Baron and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza were so pleased with the site of the museum, the high quality of the installations and the Foundation, that after the museum opened, contact between the owners of the collection and the Spanish state continued, to try to come to an arrangement to transfer the collection permanently to the Spanish Foundation. Thus, although it was kept secret, before the work on redesigning Villahermosa Palace finished, in March 1992 a new letter of intent was signed by the Minister for Culture and representatives of the owners of the collection, this time regarding the purchase of the collection. It stipulated the price to be paid for the collection in the event of an agreement being reached for its eventual sale: three hundred and fifty million dollars. At that time, the collection was said to have an estimated value of between one and one and a half billion dollars, a figure calculated taking into account the prices paid for acquisitions and applying complex indices, comparing them with insurance figures, looking at transactions on the open market for similar works of art, etc. However, the Spanish state was no ordinary purchaser, but would acquire a series of obligations concerning the future of the collection, including the most important obligation: an agreement not to sell any of the works purchased.

Thus, just nine months after the museum opened, the eagerly awaited possibility of the collection staying in Spain permanently was confirmed. On 18 June 18th, 1993, the Spanish cabinet passed a royal decree authorising the government to sign a contract allowing the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation to take over the ownership of 775 paintings that comprised the collection of the same name. Finally, on August 3rd, 1993, once the royal decree law had been passed by the Spanish parliament and the transactions agreed upon in the contract had been completed, the collection became a permanent part of Spain’s heritage.

The considerations offered by the Foundation included paying the price of three hundred and thirty eight million US dollars, as well as the Spanish state and the Foundation itself taking on certain obligations, aimed at permanently retaining the identity, unity, international nature and prestige of the collection. According to the terms of the contract, Villahermosa Palace was handed over to the Foundation and its bylaws were amended to make provision for the new arrangement: the board now comprised twelve members, eight of whom were appointed by the Spanish government and the remaining four by the Thyssen-Bornemisza family. The Minister for Culture was the chairman of the board, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza held the office of honorary chairman of the Foundation for life, and BaronessThyssen-Bornemisza, the office of vice chairlady for life.

These were the conditions laid down to guarantee what both the baron and his father had always wished: to keep the collection together for public enjoyment. The first temporary exhibition, ‘From Impressionism to Avant-garde Movements: Work on Paper from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection’, which had opened to the public on October 15th, 1993, on the first anniversary of the museum, was a resounding success, attracting around 600,000 visitors in the first two years.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation in Barcelona

The loan contract, signed on December 20th, 1988, allowed for a set number of works of art on loan from the collection to go to the Monastery of Pedralbes in Barcelona. This clause coined the spirit of the agreement, signed in May 1986 between Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and Pasqual Maragall, the Mayor of Barcelona. Work to redesign a wing of the Monastery of Pedralbes began on September 7th, 1989, with an initial budget of 500 million pesetas. In April 1992, the Kingdom of Spain, Favorita Trustees Limited and the Foundation, signed an addendum to the loan agreement, which defined which works of art belonging to the collection would be exhibited at the Monastery of Pedralbes: 72 paintings and eight sculptures.

Monastery of Pedralbes Barcelona

Monastery of Pedralbes

One year later, on April 30th, 1993, the Kingdom of Spain, Favorita Trustees and the Foundation, signed a new amendment to the loan agreement, making Barcelona city council responsible for organising and directly managing the exhibition of the works installed in the Monastery of Pedralbes. This agreement was followed by the signing of another agreement, on May 24th, between the Ministry for Culture, Barcelona City Council and the Foundation, which laid down the terms of the organisation and management of the rooms of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in the Monastery of Pedralbes. At the same time, another agreement of the same date, drawn up by and between the Ministry for Culture and the Foundation, undertook to shoulder any deficit that might arise from exhibiting part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Barcelona.

The steps taken in Madrid were repeated in Barcelona almost a year later: a presentation was held for the news media in the rooms of the Monastery of Pedralbes, which had been restored by the architects Josep María Julià and Pere López Iñigo, and the works of art were transferred from Lugano and installed there.

Coinciding with the festivals of La Merced, in honour of the patron saint of Barcelona, on September 23rd, 1993, the rooms for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in the Monastery of Pedralbes were officially opened in an event attended by the King and Queen of Spain; Jordi Pujol, prime minister of the autonomous government of Catalonia; Carmen Alborch, the Minister for Culture; Pasqual Maragall, the Mayor of Barcelona; and Baron and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza.

Since December 2004, this part of the collection has been on permanent display at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, following a collaboration agreement signed between the Foundation and the museum. Thus, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Barcelona is being showcased in a first rate artistic setting, enriching the contents of the Catalan art museum and, at the same time, raising its profile, one of the main aims of the Foundation for the collections entrusted to it.

Recent history

The efficiency of the new management arrangements put into practice by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation was clear right from the start, in 1988. With the opening of the two art galleries in Madrid and Barcelona and the complex and varied programme of activities prepared, the Foundation has established itself as a dynamic institution that occupies a special place in Spain’s cultural life.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation is aware of the role that it has to play: to provide an innovative and quality cultural offering and promote the collection through lively and dynamic management addressing the needs of contemporary society. Its activities have revolved around this core objective during its, as yet, short life. 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.

The story continues: Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection

For some years now, Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza has been gathering together an excellent collection of paintings with works donated by her spouse, including, for example, Rodin sculptures from the collection, and many others acquired on international and Spanish markets. After it made its debut at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, in 1996, and continuing the travel vocation of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family’s historic collection, in just four years this new collection has toured numerous Spanish cities and several countries in Europe, Asia and America.

Museum's new annex building to the Palace of Villahermosa

museum's new building

The collection now comprises over 600 pieces. It includes major works by reputed artists such as Simone Martini, Zurbarán, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Salomon Ruysdael, Jan Van Goyen, Canaletto and Guardi, among the Old Masters. However, its core works are paintings from the 19th and turn of the 20th century. Together with important collections of Spanish and North American painting from that period, there is a magnificent representation of artists with top international profiles: Courbet, Corot, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Bonnard, Vuillard, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Gris, Léger, Nolde, Kirchner, Kandinsky and Delaunay.

In June 1999, the announcement was made that two buildings adjacent to Villahermosa Palace had been acquired to extend the Madrid home of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Foundation to showcase the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on a free loan for a period of eleven years. The protocol of intent was signed by the Minister for Culture, Mariano Rajoy, and Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza, in Villahermosa Palace on September 30th that year. At the event, both parties made clear their wish to reach an agreement that would enable the collection to be on permanent displayed at the museum in Madrid. Work, supervised by the architects Manuel Baquero and Francesc Pla (the BOPPBA team), commenced immediately to redesign the new building to house the collection. In February 2002, a final agreement was signed confirming the previous terms and, in June 2004, the new space and the new Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum collection were opened in a spectacular event.

One of the rooms of the museum

One of the rooms of the museum

Once again, a member of the Thyssen-Bornemisza family, in this case, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza, has made an important contribution to enriching Spain’s public collections of art works, through the loan of her collection. This vocation for public service is, without a doubt, one of the distinguishing features of great collectors, who wish, above all, to share their love of art with everyone.

Official opening was attended by the Kings of Spain

Official opening was attended by the Kings of Spain

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