Art,  Museums

Thyssen — the Best Museum in Spain

The best museum in Spain is in Madrid and, in our opinion, it is not The Prado. We have compiled a list of the best 10 museums for you to discover and enjoy in Spain; but first allow us to explain why we have chosen the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza as our pick for the #1 museum in Spain.

The Thyssen possesses substantial holdings from Northern Europe, Southern Europe and the Americas, dating from the Middle Ages to this century. You will find top-notch paintings by Goya and El Greco inside the Thyssen, plus first-rate exhibitions — which, for your convenience, we have listed at the end of this article.

At the Thyssen you will find a collection that perfectly complements The Prado and other Madrid museums, and much more. The Thyssen Museum offers an artistic variety, and a unique perspective on the history of Western art, unmatched in Spain.

Old Masters from Northern & Southern Europe

From Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn and Anthony van Dyck to Domenico Ghirlandaio, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father had an eye for the finest Old Master paintings, which were originally displayed at Villa Favorita, the family’s estate in Lugano, Switzerland.

The Apotheosis of Hercules, 1765 (above) by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, son of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Villa Favorita became too small for Hans’ growing collection and, when the Spanish government offered the Villahermosa Palace (opposite The Prado Museum) to house all of his art, Hans was convinced that permanently displaying the masterpieces in Madrid offered the rarest opportunity — and coincidentally (or perhaps not) Hans’ wife, Carmen Cervera, was Spanish. Though far less crowded than The Prado, the Thyssen Museum also displays fine work by the greatest Spanish masters, such as Francisco de Zurbarán and Bartolome Esteban Murillo.

A Fantastic Collection of German Expressionism at the Thyssen Museum

The Thyssen opened in 1992, displaying 715 works of art. Nevertheless, Hans and Carmen continued to build the collection, and in 1993 the Spanish State bought 775 pieces for $350 million. In 1999, Carmen loaned over 400 works from her personal collection of art to the Thyssen Museum.

While Hans had an interest in collecting art from the Gothic style of painting to the 20th Century, Carmen possesses a keen eye for landscapes. Carmen’s collection has introduced Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces to the Madrid art scene, as well as avant-garde movements such as Fauvism, Cubism, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism and Surrealism.

Thyssen 3 paintings expressionism
Thyssen Women fitting Hats
At the Milliner’s, 1882 (above) by Edgar Degas
Flower Vase, 1880s (above) by Wilhelm Trübner
Thyssen Degas Balerina
Swaying Dancer (Dancer in Green), 1877-79 (above) by Edgar Degas
Red Clouds, a watercolor painted in Seebüll during the 1930s (above) by Emil Nolde

The Thyssen’s collection of German Expressionist art is exceptional and broad — including high-quality works of art (shown below, from left to right) by Beckmann, Nolde and Kirchner. Additional paintings by Münter, Kandinsky, Marc, Macke, Jawlensky, Schmidt-Rottluff, Pechstein, Heckel, Grosz, Schad and Dix expand one’s understand of German modernism.

An Excellent Selection of American Art

While it is true that Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza was introduced to collecting art by her husband, and she alone chose the salmon-pink color adorning the museum’s walls, Carmen’s contributions to the art world are far more substantive. One example of Carmen’s sharp eye may be found in the Thyssen’s holdings of 18th, 19th and 20th Century paintings by artists from the United States.

In the Park. A By-path, 1889 (above) by William Merritt Chase
Gallow’s Island, Bermuda, 1899-1901 (above) by Winslow Homer

Works by the greatest American painters were appreciated by both Hans and Carmen, and Carmen continued to acquire important works even after Hans passed away in 2002. You will find numerous paintings by John Singleton Copley, Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper and Jackson Pollock at the Thyssen, and we personally admire Carmen’s interest in landscapes and seascapes from equally talented Americans such as Francis A. Silva, Alfred Thompson Bricher, Martin Johnson Heade, John Henry Twachtman, Frederic E. Church, Childe Hassam, Albert Bierstadt and William Merritt Chase.

Renoir, Monet, Pissarro, Degas & van Gogh Courted Carmen’s Eyes

Visiting the Thyssen offers the viewer a wonderful, carefree ride through eight centuries of Western art, without being exhaustive. While grand museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York offer a deep, encyclopedic view of art history, the Thyssen merely presents the highlights — in sublime fashion!

A relaxing stroll through the Thyssen’s galleries is at first a mini-course in 14th and 15th Century Italian paintings; followed by early Flemish and Dutch masters (van Eyck, David, van der Weyden, Memling); amazing portraits from the 15th Century; then Carpaccio, Durer, Caravaggio and Rubens guide you through the 1500s and into the 1600s; leading up to an intensive study of genre and landscape art — two types of paintings that were enormously popular in the 17th Century Dutch school, influential for Americans in the 19th Century, inspirational for Romanticists such as Friedrich and, later, for Degas, Monet, Gauguin and others. They are all here for your pleasure. This trajectory through centuries of European & Western art logically culminates with Carmen’s obvious admiration for “vedute” — paintings of a city or place so faithfully executed that the location is easily identified — and her love for landscape art in general.

Many visitors to the Thyssen Museum walk by Watermill at Gennep, 1884 (above) without realizing that this large canvas was painted by Vincent van Gogh.

Our Choice for the Best Museum in Spain is the Museo Thyssen

Yes, the Prado Museum contains the most comprehensive display of great artists who painted in Spain (with Goya, El Greco and Velázquez leading the way). The Prado also possesses amazing holdings by Titian and Bosch, while the Museo Reina Sofia is the best place in Madrid to appreciate works by Picasso, Miró and Dalí.

The Thyssen provides a broader experience and completes the larger picture of Western art by filling in all the historical gaps missing from collections housed at The Prado and the Reina Sofia. We encourage you to visit The Prado, and we hope you will agree that the Thyssen’s collection shines brightest in areas which are underrepresented at The Prado, including Italian primitives from the 14th Century, and paintings from the Netherlandish, British and German schools. Additionally, the Thyssen will delight you with fine examples of Impressionist, Expressionist, Russian and 20th Century American art.

Current & Upcoming Exhibitions

Two noteworthy shows are presently on display. A retrospective devoted to “Alex Katz” (the first of its kind in Spain) is on view through September 11, 2022. In addition, through October 16, 2022 the Thyssen is presenting 170 works of art by painters from the United States during the exhibition “American Art from the Thyssen Collection.”

Future exhibitions include “Picasso and Chanel” (October 11, 2022 — January 15, 2023) and “Lucian Freud. New Perspectives” which will open in February 2023. The Thyssen Museum is reducing visitor capacity in all of its galleries, and advises visitors to keep a safe distance from other patrons. The use of face masks is mandatory.

American Art from the Thyssen Collection

Here are paintings on display until October 16 at the Thyssen Museum in Madrid as part of the special exhibit dedicated to art from the United States.

Thyssen american art winter
Thyseen American Art Sailboat
Sunset at Sea, 1861-63 by Martin Johnson Heade

Our List of the 10 Best Museums in Spain

  1. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, Madrid (Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza)
  2. City of Arts and Sciences, Valencia (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias)
  3. Prado Museum, Madrid (Museo Nacional del Prado)
  4. National Art Museum of Catalunya, Barcelona (MNAC, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)
  5. Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres (Dalí Theatre-Museu de Figueres)
  6. National Sculpture Museum, Valladolid (Museo Nacional de Escultura)
  7. Seville Museum of Fine Arts, Seville (Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla)
  8. Guggenheim, Bilbao
  9. Museum of Glass and Crystal, Málaga (Museo del Vidrio y Cristal)
  10. FC Barcelona Museum and The Real Madrid Museum (2 museums for fans of fútbol)

Thank you for visiting us!

One Comment

  • David Nadvorney

    No doubt, a truly wonderful museum in every respect. The two collections are breathtaking in their scope and understanding. The space is beautiful. For a more intimate, but no less extraordinary private collection, check out the McNay in San Antonio, Texas ( you get not only the art but also the house).

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