Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

Top choice museum in El Retiro & the Art Museums
Image by Ingolf Pompe / Getty Images

The Thyssen is one of the most extraordinary private collections of predominantly European art in the world. Where the Prado or Reina Sofía enable you to study the body of work of a particular artist in depth, the Thyssen is the place to immerse yourself in an incredible breadth of artistic styles. Most of the big names are here, sometimes with just a single painting, but the Thyssen’s gift to Madrid and the art-loving public is to have them all under one roof.

Begin on the top floor and work your way down.

Second Floor

The 2nd floor, which is home to medieval art, includes some real gems hidden among the mostly 13th- and 14th-century and predominantly Italian, German and Flemish religious paintings and triptychs. Unless you’ve got a specialist’s eye, pause in Room 5, where you’ll find one work by Italy’s Piero della Francesca (1410–92) and the instantly recognisable Portrait of King Henry VIII by Holbein the Younger (1497–1543), before continuing on to Room 10 for the evocative 1586 Massacre of the Innocents by Lucas Van Valckenborch. Room 11 is dedicated to El Greco (with three pieces) and his Venetian contemporaries Tintoretto and Titian, while Caravaggio and the Spaniard José de Ribera dominate Room 12. Two paintings by Zurbarán (Room 14) and a single painting by Murillo (Room 15) add further Spanish flavour in the two rooms that follow, while the exceptionally rendered views of Venice by Canaletto (1697–1768) should on no account be missed.

Best of all on this floor is the extension (Rooms A to H) built to house the collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza. Room C houses paintings by Canaletto and Van Gogh, while the stunning Room H includes works by Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Pissarro.

Before heading downstairs, a detour to Rooms 19 through 21 will satisfy those devoted to 17th-century Dutch and Flemish masters, such as Anton van Dyck, Jan Brueghel the Elder, Rubens and Rembrandt (one painting).

First Floor

If all that sounds impressive, the 1st floor is where the Thyssen really shines. There’s a Gainsborough in Room 28 and three paintings by Goya in Room 31, but if you’ve been skimming the surface of this overwhelming collection, Room 32 is the place to linger over each and every painting. The astonishing texture of Van Gogh’s Les Vessenots is a masterpiece, but the same could be said for paintings by Gauguin and Cézanne. Room 33 is also something special, with Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas.

In the 1st floor’s extension (Rooms I to P), the names speak for themselves. Room K has works by Pissaro and Sisley, while Room L is the domain of Gauguin (including his iconic Mata Mua) and Toulouse-Lautrec. Rooms N (Kandinsky and Munch), O (Matisse) and P (Matisse, Edward Hopper and Juan Gris) round out an outrageously rich journey through the masters. On your way to the stairs there’s Edward Hopper’s Hotel Room.

Ground Floor

On the ground floor, the foray into the 20th century that you began in the 1st-floor extension takes over with a fine spread of paintings from cubism through to pop art.

In Room 41 you’ll see a nice mix of the big three of cubism – Picasso, Georges Braque and Madrid’s own Juan Gris – along with several other contemporaries. Kandinsky is the main drawcard in Room 43, while there’s an early Salvador Dalí alongside Max Ernst and Paul Klee in Room 44. Picasso appears again in Room 45, another one of the gallery’s standout rooms; its treasures include works by Marc Chagall and Dalí’s hallucinatory Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate, One Second Before Waking Up.

Room 46 is similarly rich, with Joan Miró’s Catalan Peasant with a Guitar, the splattered craziness of Jackson Pollock’s Brown and Silver I, and the deceptively simple but strangely pleasing Green on Maroon by Mark Rothko taking centre stage. In Rooms 47 and 48 the Thyssen builds to a stirring climax, with Roy Lichtenstein, and Lucian Freud, Sigmund’s Berlin-born grandson, all represented.