Located just off the Plaza de la Constitución in the Renaissance-era Palacio de Villalón, this museum displays the Spanish paintings circa 1825 to 1925 collected by Carmen Thyssen of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. By concentrating on this narrow slice of European art, the baroness was able to acquire the very best work of the era. Moreover, because the museum limits its scope, the interpretation is sharp and succinct. Ground-floor galleries feature the romantic paintings of the early and mid-19th century that would make Spain into one of the most popular artistic clichés of the day. They include colorful landscapes with even more colorful inhabitants: Gypsies, flamenco dancers, bullfighters, and ladies clad in mantillas demurely fluttering their fans. One floor up, galleries showcase a more naturalistic, moody style, as well as the parallel “précieux” style in which every flower petal and costume ruffle is articulated with the detail rivaling damascene work in metal. Alfred Derhondenq’s 1851 vision of a Lenten procession in the streets of Sevilla shows the transition from the merely picturesque to a more considered realism. By 1867, Marià Fortuny i Marsal is rendering a bullfight with dramatic intensity and thick palette-knife clusters of paint that show his debt to Cezanne. As the exhibition progresses in time and style, it arrives at possibly one of the greatest paintings in the museum, the 1905 Salida de un baile de mascaros (Exit from the Masked Ball). The central figures in this parody of high society are a coachman and a doorman, standing in front of a theater smoking as a man in top hat and tails and his lady in full ball gown race down the steps. On the right, the red-nosed musicians are taking their leave. On the left, scantily clad and masked ladies are moving in on the society men.
The second floor gallery shows “old masters,” a mix of Italian and Spanish sculpture and painting from 13th-century Gothic through the museum’s sole Velázquez portrait. The third floor hosts temporary exhibitions.