It is no surprise that when someone mentions Paseo del Prado, the Prado Museum first comes to mind. And while its title as Spain’s finest art institution is indisputable, just within a 5-minute walk from it, another great museum also deserves a visit. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Once started as a private collection, the museum holds over a thousand works spanning seven centuries of European art–from the 13th century and to the late 20th century– as well as examples from 19th-century American paintings and pop art – the largest on the European continent.
The history of the collection dates back to the 1930s when Heinrich Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon started acquiring paintings from bankrupt American entrepreneurs – who thus dealt with the Great Depression. Baron was fond of classic and modern painting; his son, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, significantly enlarged the collection, particularly with examples from the 19th and 20th-century art – at some point, it was the second largest private collection in the world, after the Royal British Collection.
Until 1992, the collection was housed in a family estate in Lugano, Italy – the mansion soon became too small to hold the entire collection and Baron planned to expand the building and even hired the duo of British architects, Stirling&Wilford, to execute the job. Their design, however, was rejected by the Lugano City Council. It was Hans’s wife, Carmen Cervera, who proposed moving the paintings to Spain, in a Neo-Classical palace close to the Prado. The museum was opened in 1992, with over 700 works displayed. A year later, the Government agreed to purchase the paintings, and at the same time, to prevent the division of the collection in the future – which earlier followed the death of the 1st Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza – the ownership of the works was awarded to the Baroness. Carmen Cervera, a keen art collector herself, contributed more paintings to the gallery, mainly focused on 19th and early 20th-century Spanish art. The museum’s newest gallery, opened in 2004, bears the Baroness’s name and aside from Cervera’s immense collection, it also holds temporary exhibitions.
The official highlights of the Thyssen-Bornemisza include works by the 17th century Dutch and Flemish masters, French impressionists, American pop art and many other masterpieces; all of them are listed on the museum’s official web page.
Metro: Banco de España (line 2)
Buses: lines 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 14, 15, 20, 27, 34, 37, 41, 51, 52, 53, 74, 146 and 150