THE THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA COLLECTION: A JOURNEY THROUGH THE HISTORY OF ART
Duccio, Van Eyck, Carpaccio, Lucas Cranach, Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Frans Hals, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, Hopper, Rauschenberg: some of the great masters of the history of art represented in the Palacio de Villahermosa, home of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which opened its doors to the public on 10 October 1992.
Located almost in front to the Prado Museum, and very close to the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, this new museum, remodelled by the leading Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, was the element required to complete the so-called "Golden Art Triangle" in the centre of Madrid. The presence of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, considered the most important private art collection of the world until its acquisition by the Spanish State for $350 million in June 1993, meant that Madrid could be considered among the great European cities with regard to its art collections.
Up to this year, a visit to the Permanent Collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum has offered a marvellous panorama of almost 800 paintings, to which a further 220 works have now been added in the form of the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. The Museum offers a remarkable route through the history of painting, from its birth in the 13th century to the last decades of the 20th century. Following a chronological itinerary, the route around the museum offers the visitor the opportunity to see and learn about the most important movements and trends, including Italian Primitives (with Duccio as the key artist) up to late Surrealism and the development of the Pop Art sensibility in the Sixties, alongside examples of work by leading, contemporary figurative artists.
One of the most important characteristics of the Museum is that its collection complements and completes those of the Prado Museum with regard to Old Masters and the Reina Sofía in modern art. The Thyssen-Bornemisza’s greatest strengths are precisely those areas of art little represented in other Spanish museums: Dutch and Italian Primitives, the German Renaissance, 17th-century Dutch Painting, Impressionism, German Expressionism, Russian Constructivism, Geometric Abstraction and Pop Art. It has holdings of American 19th-century Painting that are unique in Europe, both in the historic collection and the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection.
Initially intended as a nine-and-a-half-year loan, the historic Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection - of which 75 Old Masters have been exhibited in the Monastery of Pedralbes, Barcelona since 1993 and which will soon move to the Museo Nacional de Arte de Cataluña - was acquired in 1993 by the Spanish State.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection is the result of the passionate collecting instincts of Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father, Baron Heinrich. From the 1920s latter built on the small, pre-existing family collection, focusing largely on Old Masters. By the time of his death in 1947 he had assembled around 525 paintings. In 1930 the Alte Pinakothek in Munich held the first exhibition of his paintings. Two years later, in order to accommodate the constantly growing collection, Baron Heinrich bought the beautiful Villa Favorita in Lugano from Leopold of Prussia.
The Baron was particularly interested in German Expressionism, an art movement considered "degenerate" and persecuted by the Nazis. The fascination he felt for this type of art led him on to acquire Russian Avant-garde paintings and works by other pioneers of abstraction. In this way, Baron Hans Heinrich assembled a major collection of Impressionists, Post-impressionists, early 20th-century European avant-garde painting, English Post-war art (works by Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud) and North American 19th- and 20th-century painting.
The Villa Favorita only had room for around 300 works and the Baron decided to look for another, larger home for his paintings. The location close to the Prado Museum in Madrid and the quality of the building that the Spanish State offered him influenced his decision to bring the Collection to Spain. The paintings were moved from Lugano to Madrid and installed in their new home, the Palacio de Villahermosa.
THE THYSSEN-BORNEMISZA COLLECTION: IN THE MONASTERY OF PEDRALBES
The works of art from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection which have been exhibited up to the present in the Monastery of Pedralbes in Barcelona were selected in 1991/1992 by a working party comprising experts appointed by the City Council and by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection Foundation.
They number 72 paintings and 8 sculptures, a quantity appropriate to the size of the space. The selection was made on the basis of three criteria corresponding to different and partly divergent principles:
Representativeness: The works chosen for Barcelona were intended to be representative examples of the character of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection as a whole.
Coherence: The selected works of art constitute a coherent group in artistic and historical terms.
Relevance: The selection illustrates aspects of art history appropriate to the context of the Monastery of Pedralbes and, more generally, to the history of Catalan art.
The selection of works in Barcelona is divided into five groups in historical and artistic terms:
1) Medieval art: eight medieval sculptures and 17 Italian Primitive paintings. This group, selected to harmonise with the building and the important frescos by Ferrer and Arnau Bassa, is the most important and includes a masterpiece: Fra Angelico's The Virgin of Humility.
2) Early German Renaissance: 20 paintings illustrate one of the most important and unique aspects of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Particularly notable are paintings by Bernhard Striegel, Lucas Cranach and Wolf Huber.
3) Italian Renaissance: 16 paintings ranging in date from the end of the 15th Century to the middle of the 16th Century representing the artistic activity in the north of Italy, particularly Venice, with works by artists such as Francesco de Giorgio, Dosso Dossi, Lorenzo Lotto, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.
4) Six Baroque masterpieces: In this mainly Italian section among the works selected for Pedralbes, six paintings allow us to appreciate the variety pictorial styles within the Baroque. The six selected masterpieces (two by Rubens, Annibale Carracci, Salomon Ruysdael, Zurbarán and Velázquez) also illustrate the importance of earlier art for the innovations that appeared the 19th century.
5) Late Baroque in Venice: 13 paintings with religious subjects (Ricci, Piazzetta, the Tiepolo, etc.), genre painting (Amoroso, Ceruti, Longhi, etc.) and urban views (Canaletto, Guardi) illustrate the activity of the most important Mediterranean centre in the 18th century. This group of paintings concludes the chronology of works from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Pedralbes.