Right at the heart of Spain's capital, between the square of Cibeles and that of Emperor Charles V, commonly known as the roundabout of Atocha, a broad boulevard cuts through the middle of the city, signaling the ancient boundary of town and opening up a tremendous space for museums and other cultural spaces, among which counts the Museum Thyssen Bornemisza.
Despite the fact that this museum is only roughly twenty years old, it has quickly established itself as one of the favourites of who visit Madrid, who are often attracted by the beauty of its building, the Palace of Villahermosa, built between 1805 and 1806 by one of Juan de Villanueva's pupils, Antonio López Aguado.
Originally the private collection of the first Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, Heinrich, his zeal led him to purchase great numbers of artworks, both from contemporary painters and also from existing collectors. As early as 1937, the Baron displayed his artistic possessions in a private room of his habitual home, turning it into the first version of the Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza.
Fast forward half a century and we will find the son of the old Baron, Hans Heinrich, having reassembled the collection following his father's death, and having further expanded it, desperately looking for a way to ensure the survival of the collection as a whole, neither incorporated into another conglomerate nor partitioned among his heirs.
Enter the comely figure of Carmen Cervera, fifth wife to the Baron, whose knowledge of the Spanish high society circles certainly played a role in his ultimate decision, in 1986, to park the collection permanently in her country of birth. The museum opened in 1992 and a year later the transaction was finalised, between the Government and the Baron, completing the purchase of the core of the collection, a total of close to 800 paintings, for 350 million dollars.
Today, the museum is home to a substantially larger collection, complemented by the Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, itself comprising well over 1000 pieces. While the majority of the pieces are displayed in Madrid, the institution has several venues, including a presence in Barcelona (in the MNAC), Malaga and San Feliú de Guixols (Gerona).
Exceptionally prone to curating outstanding temporary exhibitions, the Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza is arranged chronologically over three floors, starting from the Gothic art of the Middle Ages and finishing with some of the boldest tendencies to have surfaced in the world of art towards the final decades of the XX century.
While the reach and span of the collection seems unimaginable, considering it only began to be assembled during the 1910s and 1920s, special mention is owed to the selection of XIX century American painters, from the Hudson River School, wonderfully represented in the work of Thomas Cole, to the less Romantic landscape painters, such as Winslow Homer or John Singer Sargent.
Above all, the series of paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, closely arranged and associated with fellow landscapists, Jasper Francis Cropsey, John Frederick Kensett, and above all three utterly touching works by Martin Johnson Head make of the Museum Thyssen-Bornemysza the undisputable leader of American art among European institutions, and a stop you should not miss during your stay in Madrid.
And yet, probably the most popular aspect of the museum is the ground floor, where the vitality of the Baron's quest for art during the 50s and beyond can be seen and sensed in the great variety of styles and propositions that he managed to bring together under a single roof.