German Expressionists, As Collected by Baron Thyssen‐Bornemisza

Exhibition Reviews

January 4, 2021

When it first appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, Expressionism attracted numerous young artists willing to experiment by dissolving the inherited painterly patterns that seemed archaic and disconnected from the modernist paradigm. This art movement nurtured exceptionally talented and rather bold figures that unfortunately got caught by the horror of World War I. Nevertheless, their legacy influenced other practitioners and left a significant mark on the course of Modern art.

At the heart of the Museo Nacional Thyssen‐Bornemisza in Madrid stands the Thyssen collection, acquired by the museum in 1993. Among other things, it includes the most representative selection of German Expressionism in Spain. After several decades, these paintings are assembled and presented in an exhibition simply titled German Expressionism from the Baron Thyssen‐Bornemisza Collection.

Lyonel Feininger - Magic River (Dream Across the River, 1937. Oil on canvas, 36 x 70 cm. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections

Forming The Collection

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen‐Bornemisza acquired the first Expressionist painting, Young Couple by Emil Nolde, for his collection in 1961, thus changing the course of the family’s collecting activities. His father had initially gathered a stunning collection of Old Masters during the interwar period, while Hans Heinrich focused on the 20the‐century art movements, more specifically the period between the 1960s and 1990s.

Baron Thyssen got acquainted with Expressionist art through the Stuttgarter Kunstkabinett, an auction house run by Roman Norbert Ketterer, a pioneering post-war promoter of modern German and international art, and a person responsible for re-affirming the artists characterized as degenerate by the Third Reich. Eventually, Ketterer became a good friend of the Baron and a major source of Expressionist paintings. As an early collector of this modern art movement, Baron largely contributed to the rebuilding of a positive image and critical rehabilitation of these astounding artworks.

Left: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner - Woman in front of Birch Trees), around 1907. Oil on canvas, 68,5 x 78 cm. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections / Right: Emil Nolde - Young Couple, circa 1931-1935. Watercolor on paper, 53.5 x 36.9 cm. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections

The Installment

The current exhibition curated by Paloma Alarcó, Head of Modern Painting at the museum, is based on the following concepts - the very production of the paintings; their early reception by critics; the public condemnation by the Nazi regime and their subsequent rehabilitation during the post‐war period; and the Baron’s connections with art dealers and the exhibitions he organized to promote his collection internationally.

The installment consists of several sections (Studios, Outdoors, References, Popular flavor, and Diffusion) to underline different aspects relevant for a proper understanding of this movement, as well as their condemnation, public exclusion, and confiscation imposed by the Nazis starting from the notorious traveling exhibition titled Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art).

Wassily Kandinsky - Bagatella n. 2, 1915. Pencil, ink and watercolor on paper, 45 x 61 cm. Thyssen-Bornemisza Collections

The German Expressionists at Museo Nacional Thyssen‐Bornemisza

An extensive catalog with histories of each painting accompanies the current exhibition that will coincide with the centenary of the birth of Hans Heinrich Thyssen‐Bornemisza in 2021. Therefore, next yea,r the museum will stage thematic presentations of the Baron’s collection, including the selection of North American paintings and a selection of works that are on long‐term deposit from the Thyssen collection at the Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya, both scheduled for the autumn of 2021.

German Expressionism from the collection of Baron Thyssen‐Bornemisza will be on display at the Museo Nacional Thyssen‐Bornemisza in Madrid until 14 March 2021.

Featured image: Franz Marc - The Dream, 1912. Oil on canvas, 100,5 x 135,5 cm. Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum, Madrid.

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