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Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

in Madrid, Spain

This outstanding formerly private collection of art moved to Madrid from Switzerland in TK. Like most private collections, it is an idiosyncratic gaggle of works ranging from the 12th to the 20th centuries and featuring such Old Masters as Duccio, Holbein, Caravaggio, Bernini, El Greco, and Tintoretto alongside 20th century masters like Van Gogh, Mondrian, Picasso, Degas, Monet, Hopper, Rothko, de Kooning, and Dalí.

Admire how one family, in just two generations, had the impeccable taste and almost uncanny ability to acquire one to three or so paintings from a rather well-rounded list of great western painters from the early Italian Renaissance and Flemish or Dutch Old Masters, through florid barqouies and exquisite 18th and 19th century landscapes, popular impressionists and moody expressionists, all the way to 20th century avant garde and American Pop Art. And they had the good sense to limit their statue collecting to just one small Bernini and a handful of Rodin marbles.

Some highlights

The highlights (not the masterpieces; just the ones that strike me) include a Dutch painting of the Visitation (as proof that his startling Annunciation regarding her imminent Immaculate Conception was true, the angel Gabriel revealed to Mary the secret that her cousin V was already six months pregnant with St. John the Baptist, so Mary went on a Visitation to her cousin to see if this were true), in which the two halo'ed young women stand there looking pregnant and holy, with two tiny babies sort of floating there on their swollen bellies.

There are also some fine Hudson River School landscapes from Thomas Cole and Frederick Church, a Holbein the Younger portrait of haughty Henry VIII, and a tiny and dark 17th century Dutch scene of a winter storm at night with lightning twsting out of the sky over a village in the distance (rare to see lightning in a painting).

Jan Steen painted himself as I always imaginged he'd be: chins and belly overflowing and pudgy face ruddy from a lifetime of overindulgence in food and wine, tipped back in his rude chair and stumming a lute with a sloppy grin, and although he sat there all alone in the room, you could easily imagine him surrounded by the rest of the peasant Dutch merrimakers that he so often painted.

There is also a marvelous portrait by the famed immortalizer of great 18th century American men Gilbert Stuart, but of a rather unlilkely subject: George Washington's cook, standing there with his fleshy ebony face and wrinkled white cook's jacket and looking as proud in oils as any of the insipid royalty surrounding him.

Paseo del Prado 8
tel. +34-91-369-0151
Metro: Banca de España


Intrepid Travel

This article was last updated in August 2007. All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2010 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.