Aristocrat and shrewd businessman, Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza created one of the most important art collections in the world. Next week he would have turned 100 and today his paintings, which now belong to Spain, are used to decipher a man whose greatest passion was art.
“We have an image of the baron a bit distant, an aristocratic person, but in reality he was a very close person, even shy. He was passionate, intuitive and not at all dogmatic, “recalls Juan Ángel López-Manzanares, curator of the Thyssen Museum in Madrid and curator of the baron’s centenary.
This week the museum is decked out for the event, which takes place on Tuesday, April 13. Classical music concerts, conferences and open houses commemorate the anniversary in a year dull by the pandemic and which coincides with the expansion of negotiations for the loan of the collection of his widow, Carmen Thyssen.
The collection that Heinrich Thyssen sold to Spain in the 1990s consisted of a few 800 works and it is a whole journey through the history of art. Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Dürer or Carpaccio rub shoulders with Van Gogh, Degas, Picasso, Hopper or Freud in their corridors. All of them, in addition to making up one of the most important collections in the world, serve to decipher the baron’s personality, explains López-Manzanares: he himself chose the works, he did not allow himself to be advised; and it was very bold.
“The great passion of his life was painting. In his memoirs he says that helped him overcome setbacks both sentimental and their companies, “says the expert.
The collection of the Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza (Netherlands, 1921-Spain, 2002), which his relatives called ‘Heini’, is also that of his father and his grandfather. In 1947 he inherited a large part of the family collection and, at first, following in his father’s footsteps, he increased it with great old masters: “For his father after Goya, there was nothing of value”.
In the sixties he took “a step forward” and began to impress his personality by buying works by contemporary authors. The first were from German Expressionists, a generation persecuted by Nazism to whom he was attracted politically, “even before appreciating them aesthetically,” as he used to say.
The Baron he received a family emporium with 23 years decimated by WWII, and spent nearly a decade building it up quite successfully. In his memoirs, he admits that as a young man he was not interested in art, but in 1939 he arrived in Villa Favorita, in Switzerland, fleeing the Second World War and there he found calm and refuge in the contemplation of the paintings in his father’s collection.
“The baron grew as a person through his contact with art, it is as if his relationship with painting was shaping him,” says López-Manzanares. He came to have a very good eye, Canaletto’s two views of Venice that are on display in the museum, he bought without being attributed to the painter yet, but he knew they were good.
When the companies went well and no longer required so much time, in the seventies, he dedicated himself exclusively to his collection. There were years when he bought “in a frenzy”, up to a hundred works. Sometimes he could follow a piece for years or buy a work by an artist and if he found a better one, he would sell it to get the new one. ‘The Virgin of the Dry Tree’, for example, belonged to her aunt Amelie, who promised her the painting, but sold it to Konrad Adenauer. He kept track of the play, and many years later, when the German chancellor had gotten rid of it, he got the play.
“Painting was what put the rest of the facets of his life into perspective, what gave him true value in his life, it was what he was excited and excited“, the expert explains to Efe.
In the eighties, the collection had acquired international weight and relevance, and the baron begins to worry about his fate, he does not want her to be disintegrated among his heirs -he has five children-, so he looks for a place where he can locate her and that she remains united after his death.
He is courted by countries and institutions around the world, from the Guetty Foundation in the United States, England or Germany, but finally the agreement reaches Spain. “It is difficult that the collection would have come to Spain if it had not been for Carmen Cervera” (Spanish and his last wife), explains the curator. One of the fundamental aspects that tipped the balance was also that the Spanish Government offered the Villahermosa Palace, opposite the Prado Museum.
The museum now exhibits the Baron’s collection, owned by the State, and that of his widow, the Carmen Thyssen collection, on loan, two collections that “complement each other perfectly,” says the curator. In 2017, the museum reached an agreement with the contemporary art foundation of Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, one of the baron’s daughters.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.