Time’s up for Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum’s loan agreement with Carmen Cervera

More than 400 works from the baroness’s collection may be removed from the Madrid museum, but the Spanish culture minister hopes to reach a deal this week


The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid has reached an impasse: the loan agreement of the collection of the 73-year-old baroness Carmen Cervera, the widow of the industrial tycoon Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza who died in 2002, came to an end on Monday, 30 January, without a replacement in place. The future of 429 works in the collection worth a combined €750m—including pieces by Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Degas, Gauguin, Rodin, Matisse and Picasso—is now in limbo.

Cervera has threatened to pull her collection out of Spain if a new agreement is not reached that allows her to take works out on loan for exhibitions at museums in Spain and abroad, El Pais reports. The Spanish minister of education, sport and culture, Íñigo Méndez de Vigo, has promised that a deal will be made by the end of the week.

The majority of the works kept at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, housed in the historic Villahermosa Palace, come from the personal collection of the baron Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza. In 1993, the museum acquired his holdings of 775 works dating from the 13th to 20th centuries for $350m.

In 1999, The baron’s collection was rounded out with works owned by Cervera, who entered into a long-term loan contract with the Madrid museum lasting 11 years. When it expired, the baroness tried unsuccessfully to sell the collection to the Spanish state and the contract was extended year by year, until a final six-month extension was agreed in 2016.

Cervera has said that she wants her art to continue to be shown alongside her late husband’s, and reiterated on Tuesday that it is “her deepest wish to keep the collection in Spain”. With this goal in mind, the Villahermosa Palace added a major extension in 2004. But the baroness has made the renewal of her loan conditional on a more flexible legal framework, saying that she is thinking about her estate: she has a son Borja, born in 1980, and twin girls she adopted in 2007.

Until now, she has had the right to sell 10% of the total value of the collection. The 2012 sale of John Constable’s painting The Lock (1824) at Christie’s in London for £22.4m, for example, represented less than 5% of the collection's value. She now also wants to make around 60 works from her collection at her disposal every year, “to be able to put on exhibitions in Spain and abroad”.

In 2011, Cervera opened a second Thyssen Museum in Málaga, at the Villalón Palace, where 300 works by 19th-century Spanish painters are kept. More recently, she announced the opening in March of the new Carmen Thyssen Museum in the principality of Andorra, where the baroness lives with her family for tax reasons.