Everyone knows the Reina Sofia and the Prado. The two top museums of Madrid in the capitol of Spain. Yet the Thyssen Museum is a damn good third. Or first, like it was for me. Where the Sofia dips you under in the 20th century modern and contemporary art (Picasso’s Guernica!), Prado treats you with the historical stuff. And Thyssen holds on nicely in the middle. Here you find everything from the Renaissance to the early 20th century, and only the top of the notch. So skip the cues of the other two and be amazed at the equally immense Thyssen collection.
Spotify tip while reading this post: Red by Lost in the trees
Bliss. I enter my first floor of the Thyssen Museum and I love it within an instant. I’m going to take my time. The air is museum-cool and it’s quiet. My footsteps carry out into space with an echo. Why did I have to wear heels? I meet the old Gaddi of the early Renaissance, romantic Tintoretto of Venice, Patinir the forefather of the independent landscape, my heroes. And then Goya.
“A wonderful museum, they have all these wonderful paintings here. Look at this Caravaggio, you just gotta love it. I have seen Caravaggios before. We were in Reina Sofia yesterday and it was just wonderful.” The older man gets closer to ‘the Caravaggio’ and looks at it quickly. I can’t help it, a slight annoyance sparks inside my stomach for having my quiet private talks with my paintings disrupted. The man begins a hasty lecture about the colors of the painting. The blue color of the dress, a symbol of the holy Maria. The wheels of the carriage, that I don’t remember the meaning of anymore. Of course this man had to be an American.
But despite myself, my interest has been sparked. I feel there’s a story. In between the ramble, he has really useful stuff to say about this painting. So I ask him. The response: “Well, I’m from New York. I teach art at Cornell.” OK!
As I said, I’m going to be here for a while.
An hour later, after his wife’s several attempts to get him to continue, to have lunch and to even leave the museum altogether after the fifth time or so, he slips me his visitor card. I am hoping the man, the respectable art connoisseur and can’t-stop-talking American, one day will read this post and know how I appreciate our meeting. I will be reminded of the possibility there is a story in each person every time I think of the Thyssen and getting annoyed is a stupid thing to do. And I will never forget why Maria’s dress is always blue. Thank you, it was a pleasure meeting you, sir.
The Thyssen Museum
I adore Courbet, the father of impressionist landscape painting, the descendent of Patinir. He’s here. Renoir with his dark-blue eyed ladies, Manet with his romantic 19th century impressions, they’re here. And down on the first floor, Van Gogh, no introduction needed, Picasso and his buddy Braque, idem dito, Robert Delauney with his abstract colorful materialization of sound (or did I just imagine this?), the highlights of modern art, they’re all here. And if you think you’ve seen it all, you will proceed to the last spaces and discover that the Thyssen even owns a Jackson Pollock drip painting and a Mark Rothko rectangles painting. Whoa.
In other words, the Thyssen treats you to a complete overview of the arts since the Renaissance without being too overwhelming. Less overwhelming than the Reina Sofia and Prado, that is. At least, it is possible to see the whole museum within one visit without losing too much of your patience. Or perhaps I’m just indefatigable.
And did I mention that the cues are friendly?
I say, go!
Visit the website at www.museothyssen.org/en. The official name of the museum is Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. There are temporary exhibitions throughout the year as well as a permanent collection. It’s close to the Reina Sofia Museum, across the street, and it’s close to the center of Madrid. Very easy to find, thanks to the signs in Madrid.