One of the most important art collections in the world, the Thyssen Bornemisza focuses on European painting from the 13th to the 20th centuries and is the perfect complement to the Prado (see Museo del Prado) and Reina Sofía (see Centro de Arte Reina Sofía). Wealthy industrialist Baron Heinrich Thyssen Bornemisza began acquiring Old Masters in the 1920s for his villa in Switzerland. After the baron’s death in 1947 his son, Hans Heinrich, added modern masterpieces, including French Impressionists, German Expressionists and the pick of the Russian Avant Garde (see Modern Paintings in the Thyssen), to the collection. In 1993 the state bought the collection for the knock-down price of $350 million (the true value being estimated at nearer $1 billion). In spring 2004 a new extension opened, displaying Baroness Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza’s collection, which includes important Impressionist works.
Outstanding among the collection of Italian Primitives is this work (1310–11) by Sienese master Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1278–1319). The painting’s lifelike quality reveals Duccio’s interest in accuracy and looks forward to the Renaissance.
This selfportrait (c.1643) by Rembrandt (1606–69) is one of more than 60 such works by the great Dutch artist. It reveals Rembrandt’s view of himself as isolated genius.
Vittore Carpaccio (c.1460– 1525) is an important representative of the Venetian school. This intriguing work (1510) shows a courtly knight amid symbolic and animals and plants.
Dutch artist Salomon van Ruysdael’s (1600–70) evocative seascape (c.1650) is one of the finest examples of the genre, for its effortless mastery of colour and perspective.
This devotional painting (c.1450) by Dutch artist Petrus Christus (c.1410–72), was inspired by an Old Testament metaphor in which God brings the dry tree (the chosen people) to life. The “A”s hanging from the tree stand for Ave Maria and were meditational.
This haunting work (c.1828) is by the influential American artist, Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudson River School. Cole idealized the untramelled American landscape as a new Garden of Eden.
This witty still life (c.1728) in the Dutch style is by French artist, Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699–1779). Its companion piece, Still Life with Cat and Fish , is in Room 27.
The subject of this painting (c.1515) by Raphael (1484–1520), one of the great artists of the High Renaissance, is thought to be Alessandro de Medici, nephew of Pope Clement VII. This haughty youth later became a tyrant and was murdered by his cousin in 1537.
Distorted figures, swirling lines and bold colours are typical of the Mannerist style which El Greco (1541– 1614) mastered in Venice, where he was influenced by Titian and Tintoretto, both masters of the High Renaissance. This intensely spiritual painting (c.1567–1577) reveals the Cretan artist’s development following his move to Toledo, Spain, in 1577.
This sublime portrait (1488) by Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–94), was the last Baron Thyssen’s favourite. It was commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Giovanna degli Albizzi to Lorenzo Tornabuoni – a union of two powerful families. Tragically, Giovanna died in child birth shortly afterwards.
The main entrance is through the courtyard where there is a shop and cloakrooms. The collection is organized chronologically, starting with the galleries on the top floor. Visitors following the official route will trace the history of western art, starting with the Italian Primitives and ending with 20th- century abstract and Pop Art. The Carmen Thyssen Collection occupies the first and second floors of the new extension. Temporary exhibitions are held on the ground floor and there is a viewing terrace on the fifth floor.
This Impressionist painting of a garden bathed in sunlight (c.1873) is by one of the founders of the influential movement, Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841–1920). Renoir was apprenticed for four years as a porcelain painter, and later attributed his technical brilliance in handling surface and texture to his early training.
This exquisite study of a dancer in performance (1877–9) by French artist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) is one of a series of his works devoted to the ballet. Unlike some Impressionist painters, Degas placed great emphasis on the importance of drawing, as the superb draughts manship of this pastel clearly shows.
Vincent Van Gogh (1853–90) painted this dazzling landscape (1890) during the last year of his troubled life. He worked feverishly while staying at Les Vessenots, near Auvers in France, producing more than 80 canvases in less than three months.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880– 1938) was an important figure in German Expressionism and a member of the group known as Die Brücke (The Bridge), which began the movement in Dresden. These artists were more interested in expressing feelings through their work, and encouraging emotional responses from their audience, rather than portraying outward reality. Fränzi, seen in this lovely 1910 work, was one of their favourite models.
A founder member, with Wassily Kandinsky, of the influential Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) group, German artist Franz Marc (1880–1916) took Expressionism in a new, spiritual direction. Colours, as in this 1912 work, are used symbolically, as are the animals in his paintings, which represent truth, beauty and other ideals.
Liubov Popova (1889–1924) was one of the most innovative artists working in Russia on the eve of the Revolution. This Cubist painting (1915), completed after a period of study in Paris, paves the way for her Painterly Architectonic , an even bolder abstract work exhibited in Room 41.
In this moving 1931 painting by American artist Edward Hopper (1882–1967) the bare furnishings, discarded suitcase and disconsolate posture of the woman holding the railway timetable masterfully suggest loneliness and dislocation – a subject the artist returned to time and again. Hopper is the most important representative of the American social realist school, created in the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression which followed.
Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) was one of the most influential abstract artists of the 20th century. Born in The Netherlands, he moved to New York after the outbreak of World War II. The simple geometrical forms and bold colours of this abstract painting (1940–42) celebrate the energy and dynamism of his adopted home.
Famous for his “action paintings” – randomly throwing or pouring paint onto the canvas in an effort to create spontaneity – Jackson Pollock (1912–56) made a huge impact on postwar art in America. This painting (c.1951) is typical of his revolutionary approach.
This revealing study of the museum’s benefactor (1981–2) is the work of Britain’s most distinguished portrait artist, Lucian Freud (b.1922). In the background is Pierrot Content by Jean Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), which visitors will find in Room 28.