Not only is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza the world’s most complete collection of Western art, it’s also the most thoughtfully displayed, gracing three floors of the Palacio de Villahermosa with everything from medieval altar paintings to Pop Art. Originally the personal collection of Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, it’s been housed here since 1992, originally under a loan agreement, and since the Baron’s death in 2002 as the property of the Spanish state. A pair of adjoining buildings have just been opened to house the less carefully selected personal collections of his Spanish fourth wife, Tita Cervera, making a visit worthwhile even if you’ve been here before.
Although critics claim the Thyssen-Bornemisza’s works vary in quality and offer only a cursory introduction to innumerable painters and periods, I personally find these criticisms unjustified – next to the unusually airy galleries the museum’s scope is its greatest charm. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in seeing comprehensive displays of the work of specific artists or individual famous works the cavernous Prado and Reina Sofia, the other two points on Madrid’s "Art Triangle" will be more to your liking. If you’d prefer a more approachable collection, and a broad introduction to Western art, however, read on…
Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection is arranged roughly sequentially over three floors, with the earliest works on the highest level (which can be reached by elevator) and modern works on the ground floor, which are arranged according to style rather than in the strictly chronological fashion of the upper two floors. It’s worth renting an audioguide (€5) to make sense of the assemblage, although most paintings are accompanied by labels that provide basic information in both Spanish and English. Tita Cervera’s collections are displayed in separate galleries (located in what were once different buildings) on the upper two floors. This thoughtful design doesn’t disturb the harmony of the Baron’s collections (which were installed here under his supervision) and still allows you to compare the two as paintings from the same period are located in adjacent rooms. Tita’s collections are more heavily geared toward nineteenth and twentieth century art – particularly by non-Spanish artists who are underrepresented in the Prado and Reina Sofia – and consequently make a wonderful addition to the "Art Triangle" as a whole.
Choosing favorites from the collection is entirely a matter of personal taste – its greatest charm may be that there’s literally something for everyone. Although I personally find the display of works by Caravaggio and Ribera, thoughtfully placed together in Rooms 13-15, and the who’s whos of Post-Impressionism (33) and Expressionism (35-37) most compelling, your interests are likely to be different. Indeed one of the collection’s joys is that it confronts you with styles you might seek to ignore in another museum and that it places works by artists of different nationalities together in contrast to their usual segregation – illustrating both points I personally found the assemblage of British, French, and American nineteenth century landscapes in Rooms 29-31 delightful.
Further information: http://www.museothyssen.org