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Will Carmen Cervera’s collection remain at Madrid’s Thyssen Museum?

Still no deal with Culture Ministry covering free-of-charge loan of 429 paintings that expired Monday

Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza has said she will take part of her art collection out of Spain if she fails to reach an agreement with the Culture Ministry to renew the existing deal to display her paintings in Madrid, which expired on Monday. The negotiations cover 429 mostly European works, loaned by the widow of Hans Heinrich von Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1999 at no cost, and estimated to be worth €750 million.

Carmen Cervera sits next to Richard Estes' 'Nedick's'.
Carmen Cervera sits next to Richard Estes' 'Nedick's'.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, Spanish Culture Minister Íñigo Méndez de Vigo told reporters that he was awaiting Baroness Thyssen’s decision on what she wanted to do with her collection.

“We are very grateful to Doña Carmen for having loaned us this collection during these years. Now the baroness has asked for a change. This is not about economic concession, but conditions relating to the sale of certain works from the collection. We have been very generous during the negotiations,” he said, adding: “She is free to do whatever she wishes.”

The Culture Ministry wants to prevent Cervera from selling any more of her paintings

Culture Ministry sources believe that the baroness wants to be able to sell some of the more important pieces from her collection, as she did in 2012 when she auctioned Constable’s The Lock for €27.89 million, a move that was seen as a major loss. Under the present agreement, she has the right to sell up to 10% of the total value of her collection. The sale of the Constable painting amounted to less than 5%.

Minister Méndez de Vigo and Fernando Benzo, the Secretary of State for Culture, told EL PAÍS on Monday that any agreement with Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza should include “a ban on the sale of new pieces.”

Among the highlights of her collection are Gauguin’s Mata Mua, Renoir’s Wheatfield, Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge, Goya’s A Woman and two Children by a Fountain, and Zurbarán’s St Marina.

The current impasse does not affect the majority of the works currently hanging in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which are part of the personal collection of Baron von Thyssen-Bornemisza, who died in 2002. His collection was acquired by the Spanish state in 1993 for $350 million. The two collections make up around 1,000 works of great value, mainly consisting of paintings from the 13th century up to the 20th century.

Baroness Thyssen, who is also known by her maiden name of Carmen Cervera, has said on many occasions that she wants both collections to be exhibited together. To house her collection, Spain financed an extension of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, increasing the former Villahermosa Palace’s surface area by 50%. If an agreement is not reached, the permanent collection could be reordered in the foundation, say Culture Ministry sources.

Gauguin's 'Mata Mua' is one of the highlights of Cervera's collection.
Gauguin's 'Mata Mua' is one of the highlights of Cervera's collection.

The works on display at Espai Carmen Thyssen in Sant Feliu de Guíxols (Girona), and at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Málaga are not affected. EL PAÍS was unable to contact Cervera on Monday, although on January 21 she told the newspaper: “I would like to know what is going to happen to the paintings, but I am afraid that it’s my lawyers who are doing all the negotiating.”

The 1999 deal between the baroness and the ministry was initially for 11 years. When it expired, it was extended from year to year, until last year, when a six-month limit was applied.

Culture State Secretary Fernando Benzo said that the situation will be resolved one way or the other before the end of this week.

Guillermo Solana, the Thyssen Foundation’s artistic director, explains that over the course of successive negotiations, the total number of paintings has shrunk from 656 to the current 429. Of these, “between 240 and 250 by international masters” are on show at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. This year will see a series of commemorative exhibitions to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

Two weeks ago, Baroness Thyssen announced the opening of a third museum bearing her name in Andorra, where she has her tax residence. Her son Borja, whose tax residence is also in the principality, is facing a possible three-year prison sentence for an alleged €630,000 tax fraud. The museum, located in a former hotel, is due to open on March 16.

At the end of 2010, Cervera rejected the Culture Ministry’s offer to lease her collection for two years.

Cervera, a former Miss World, began collecting art after she married Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, her third husband, in 1985. Her interests focus on Spanish painting, Catalan works from the 19th century, Dutch 17th-century pieces, Impressionists and early modern art.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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