Named after its founder and located near the Prado Museum on one of the main boulevards in the Spanish capital of Madrid, Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum is one of the largest museums in the country. Also called Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, it is known as a part of the Golden Triangle Art, accompanying the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. However, while the Museo Nacional del Prado includes primitive Italian, along with works from the Dutch, German and English schools and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía houses the Expressionists, Impressionists, European and American paintings from the 20th century, the Thyssen-Bornemisza fills the historical gaps between its two counterparts.
Housing a significant collection of more than 1600 paintings from the 13th century to the late 20th century, it also features works from some movements not represented in state-owned collections, like Fauvism and the experimental avant-garde movements of the early 20th century. With its huge and significant collection, it was once considered to be the second largest in the world, after the British Royal Collection.
It all started in the 1920s, when Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon, a German-Hungarian entrepreneur and art collector, began his private collection by acquiring several masterpieces during the Great Depression which he kept in the family home in the Swiss town of Lugano. As he focused primarily on the works of the classical Old Masters, he acquired paintings of Paolo Uccello, Benozzo Gozzoli, Luca di Tommè and others, including Saint Catherine by Caravaggio, Christ among the Doctors, by Albrecht Düre; the portrait of Giovanna, by Domenico Ghirlandaio; Young Knight in a Landscape, by Vittore Carpaccio; Diptych of the Annunciation, by Jan van Eyck and Madonna of the Dry Tree, by Petrus Christus. Eventually, the collection was passed into the hands of his son, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, who assembled most of the works from his relatives' collections and also expanded it by acquiring several modern pieces including a large Impressionist collection.
As the twenty-room building in the family estate in Lugano was soon found to be insufficient to accommodate the collection, the Baron filed a request for the extension of the building in 1988, which was rejected by the Lugano City Council. In the face of the circumstances, Carmen Cervera, the Spanish-born wife of the Baron, a former Miss Spain in 1961, insisted and persuaded her husband to relocate the essence of his collection to Spain, where the local government had a building available next to the Prado.
Finally, displaying 715 works of art, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum opened its doors to the public in 1992, housed inside the Palacio de Villahermosa, an 18th century neoclassical palace, located alongside the Prado Museum and designed by the Spanish neoclassical architect Antonio López Aguado.
A year later, the Spanish Government bought 775 works, which are now in the purpose-built museum in Madrid. However, in 1999, Baroness Cervera loaned 429 works of her own art collection to the museum for 11 years, which was renewed annually for free since 2012. Later, in 2021, the Ministry of Culture of Spain officially finalized an agreement with the Baroness to loan her collection for an annual fee of 6.5 million Euros for 15 years. However, the Baroness remained associated with the museum, even personally deciding on the salmon pink tone of the interior walls.
In May 2006, she publicly demonstrated against the proposed project of the Mayor of Madrid to redevelop the Paseo del Prado, one of the main boulevards of the city, as the consequent pollution due to the work, along with the inevitable increase in traffic might be hazardous for the building, as well as the invaluable collection.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum offers a wonderful opportunity for the visitors to see and study both landscape and genre art, the two types of paintings that were particularly popular in the 17th century Dutch school and amongst 19th century American artists. Those paintings acted as inspiration for Romantic painters like Friedrich, Impressionists like Monet and Degas, as well as Post-Impressionists, like Gauguin and Van Gogh, who are properly represented in the collection of the museum. While the ground floor of the museum houses the new installation of 180 works from the Carmen Thyssen collection, the first floor is devoted to the work of the Modern Masters, from Impressionism to the 20th century. The Thyssen-Bornemisza collection is spread around the second floor, where the Old Masters until the start of the 19th century are displayed.
Apart from the works by the leading Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo painters as mentioned earlier, the museum also houses a remarkable display of North American paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries, which includes among others, John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent.
The display of 19th century European starts with three portraits of Francisco Goya, marking the transition to Romanticism; small paintings, including Arab Rider, by the French Romantic artist Eugène Delacroix; Easter Morning, by the 19th century German Romantic landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich; The Brook Brème by the French painter Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet and works by the English portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence, French painter and lithographer, Théodore Géricault and French landscape and portrait painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.
The Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists are represented in the museum by the works of famous painters like Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin, Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh and others. Apart from that the large and rich collection of 20th century modern art displayed in the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum includes the Cubist works by Picasso, Juan Gris, Braque, along with the paintings of Francis Bacon, Edvard Munch, James Ensor, Salvador Dali and many more. The selection of German Expressionism in the museum is also extensive, enriched by the works of August Macre, Emil Nolde, Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann and others.
The extensive collection of the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum shines particularly bright in many areas which are not properly represented in other Spanish museums. With its rich collection of Italian primitives, the German Renaissance, Impressionism, German Expressionism, 19th century American art and Russian Constructivism, it is currently considered to be the fifth most visited museum in Spain.