Opened in 1992, the Thyssen occupies spacious galleries filled with natural light in the late-18th-century Villahermosa Palace (itself finished in 1771). This ambitious collection of almost 1,000 paintings traces the history of Western art with examples from every important movement, from the 13th-century Italian Gothic through 20th-century American pop art. The works were gathered from the 1920s to the 1980s by Swiss industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father. At the urging of his wife, the baron donated the entire collection to Spain in 1993, and a renovation in 2004 increased the number of paintings on display to include the baroness's personal collection (considered of lesser quality). Critics have described the museum's paintings as the minor works of major artists and the major works of minor artists, but the collection still traces the development of Western humanism as no other in the world.
One highlight is Hans Holbein's Portrait of Henry
VIII (purchased from the late Princess Diana's grandfather, who used the money to buy a Bugatti sports car). American artists are also well represented; look for the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington's cook, and note how closely the composition and rendering resemble the artist's famous painting of the Founding Father. Two halls are devoted to the impressionists and postimpressionists, including many works by Camille Pissarro and a few each by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Vincent van Gogh, and Paul Cézanne. Find Pissarro's Saint-Honoré Street in the Afternoon, Effect of Rain for a jolt of mortality, or Renoir's Woman with a Parasol in a Garden for a sense of bucolic beauty lost.
Within 20th-century art, the collection is strong on dynamic German expressionism, with some works by Georgia O'Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth along with Edward Hoppers, Francis Bacons, Robert Rauschenbergs, and Roy Lichtensteins. The temporary exhibits can be fascinating and in summer are sometimes open until 11 pm. A rooftop restaurant serving tapas and drinks is open in the summer until past midnight. You can buy tickets in advance online.