October 8, 2012
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In Madrid, I spent some very pleasant hours at the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. It’s an impressive collection, amassed by the Baron and his wife. The collection includes at least three of his portraits, and at least two of his wife. The one by Lucian Freud is pretty good.

A lot of the museum’s collection isn’t in the museum. The paintings are elsewhere, and they’re replaced by nicely printed little signs boasting of the prestigious places to which they are on loan. In some rooms, seemingly half the paintings were on vacation.

The remaining collection is nothing if not cheerful. There’s a Holbein of Henry VIII, looking almost a cheerful as the baron. There’s a brilliant big Sargent duchess, and an even better little Sargent Onion Seller in which John Singer is playing with a dark palette to very fine effect. There’s a nice wall of El Lissitsky, who looks best in quantity, and a single lovely watercolor by Winslow Homer, whose work does look all the better on its own.

There are three Chagalls, seemingly chosen for the sparsity of recognizably Jewish imagery. There is no Millais, no Anders Zorn, no Kollwitz. Everything is cheerful and pleasant and there’s hardly a hint of the guns of August or Hiroshima, Auschwitz or Berlin.

After some hours, I was thirsty. I sought out the cafeteria, but it’s situated outside the museum to attract patrons fron the street. There was only an hour before closing time; I decided I’d rather look some more. So I returned to the gallery.

But I couldn’t find my ticket. And the guard was unmovable (and rather rude): I must either find my ticket or pay another nine euros for the privilege of the remaining 40 minutes of viewing time.

I did find my ticket and spent much of the remaining time with John Singer Sargent and that lovely onion seller. It’s probably good to know what the Thyssen is saying: we very much want your money and your adoration, and we very much want not to be disturbed or distressed by the unpleasantness around us.

The gallery did not immediately offer to comment.