A mysterious glimpse of what used to be a gem of contemporary art collections, hidden in the heart of Europe. This closed-to-public house is a former (one of) home of the Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his fifth (I think) wife Carmen Cervera.
This Villa was home to most glamorous parties and fabulous people, but more importantly – held what I assume was enormous amounts of art – jewels among the paintings of 20th century.
I was reading about Villa in Simon de Pury autobiography The Auctioneer couple years ago. It was a pure joy to accidentally stumble upon it now on a map while in Lugano (I was looking for pharmacy). He then wrote –
“Heini Thyssen was looking for a new curator for his collection at his estate, the Villa Favorita in Lugano…The Villa Favorita was open to public, as part of a Swiss tax-exemption deal… Heini’s subtropical, palm-shaded, seventeenth century Villa was the kind of place that went with owning a jet. Heini’s father, the “Big Heinrich” had bought the estate in 1932 from Prince Leopold of Prussia in a “house sale”, taking the Villa, it’s dozen petits trianons, it’s garages full of Bentleys and Isotta Franchinis and all its curated content in exchange for a painting. The Villa Favorita seemed like a Tower of Babel.”
Simon de Pury wrote that when wanting to redecorate Villa Favorita to safely fit all the art, he faced Swiss bureaucracy that made it really difficult to move paintings. Because of all the tourists H.T-B. brought to Lugano to see his art, he thought Switzerland should pay for the expansion of Villa Favorita. Switzerland said No. So Heini, smarting at his Swiss slap in the face, let it be known that his collection of art will be available to the country that would show him the respect Switzerland had not. This set off massive international competition and the biggest transfer of art. In 1993 the Kingdom of Spain opened a museum in Madrid in the name of Thyssen-Bornemisza and added the art works from Villa, along with some other collections of Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The museum holds the works of Van Eyck, Ghirlandaio, Dürer, Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Canaletto, Friedrich, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Morisot, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Kandinsky, O’Keeffe, Dalí, Hopper, Rothko and many others.
Having visited the museum in Madrid, it’s amazing that the artoworks are available for anyone to see, yet the view of the abandoned Villa is a little sad. While many other old-Europe legendary places have similar fate, this one gets to enjoy the lively, bright green Lugano lake view 💚