Madrid: Thysen-Bornemisza Museum

Entry hall at the Thysen-Bornemisza Museum
Entry hall at the Thysen-Bornemisza Museum

It was late afternoon by the time I checked into my Madrid hotel after leaving Granada. Consequently, I had time to take in only one sight here today. That was the Thysen-Bornemisza Museum* (El Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza), an art gallery.

When I arrived at the Thysen-Bornemisza, the ticket seller, before accepting my money, warned me that they would be open for only another hour and a half.

Warned me? She obviously didn’t know me. That isn’t surprising. We live in different countries, on different continents. Besides, whether home or away, I pretty much keep to myself. How could she possibly know me? However, if she had known me she would have known that a warning was unnecessary.

One of many rooms in the Thysen-Bornemisza Museum

The timings vary depending on the art gallery but, on average, after about 20 minutes of wandering around an art gallery a film forms on the surface of my eyes. Within half an hour, that’s normally a demi-glaze. By 45 minutes, my eyes typically fully glaze over, covered in a thick varnish.

After an hour or so, my mind typically leaves my body. I’m not sure where it heads, but I suspect it goes out for a nice meal and maybe a drink. Hopefully it doesn’t get into too much trouble. By about the hour and a half mark, having been mindless for a half hour or so, my body is in serious danger of decomposing into a protoplasm puddle.

So, no. Leaving after only an hour and a half will be no problem. Thanks.

But enough about me.

The Thysen-Bornemisza Collection

An anatomically correct Picasso painting
An anatomically correct Picasso painting

The Thysen-Bornemisza Museum* is a large art gallery spread over three floors. Rick Steves’ Spain tour book describes it as filling in the gaps of the Prado and having major works by minor artists and minor works by major artists. OK. I wouldn’t know about that.

Some of the big names I spotted on the Thysen-Vornemisza Museum’s walls included Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cézanne. Degas, Renoir, Monet, and Picasso. There were also paintings beside the names, as tends to happen in art galleries.

I didn’t read all of the placards, but based on the ones I did read, the collection ranges from the 14th to the 20th century. It included a wide variety of styles that shall remain nameless because I don’t know their names. 

A Still (?) Life with Cat and Fish, by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
A Still (?) Life with Cat and Fish, by Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin

I was pleased to see a Picasso that was from his period when he knew how many ears, eyes and noses most people have and how they are typically aligned on the human face.

The museum also exhibited a painting by someone named Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin titled Still Life with Cat and Fish. I don’t get it. Still life? The fish were definitely still. They were clearly dead. But the cat? I don’t think so. Unless the cat was the product of a very talented taxidermist, there’s no way it stood still long enough for Jean-Baptiste-Siméon to paint it. Particularly not with what looks like freshly dead fish in front of it. Food!

[Real] Still Life with Fruit, by Louise Moillon
[Real] Still Life with Fruit, by Louise Moillon

Another painting, this one by an artist named Louise Moillon, is titled Still Life with Fruit. Her subject was plums, peaches, asparagus, and what looked to me like strawberries, along with some leaves and branches, a basket, a board, and some bricks that the board rests on. Now that’s what I call a still life. None of those things will chase feverishly a string dangled in front of it. 

 Aside

* This often bugged me before, but, out of respect for the institutions, I kept my mouth shut, until now. We need a new semantic rule.

I’ve noticed that, particularly in Europe, a number of what I would call art galleries, or just galleries, call themselves museums. Stop that.

To me, a museum displays mostly things like dinosaur fossils, mummies, other archeological finds, and the like. Art galleries, on the other hand, display mostly paintings and sculptures.

Sure, overlaps occur. Archaeologists may dig up sculptures appropriate for either institution. But the dominant theme easily defines whether it’s a museum or an art gallery—at least by my definitions of those terms.

Some institutions get it. For example, back home in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario displays paintings, sculptures and the like. The Royal Ontario Museum displays dinosaur skeletons; Egyptian mummies; minerals; and Chinese, Roman, Greek and Egyptian relics; along with some dead bats in a bat cave and other such stuff. See. Art gallery versus museum. It isn’t that difficult.

I recognize there are exceptions to my museum definition. For example, a science museum may not have a lot of historical artifacts other than a few old scientific instruments. Apart from that it might display, for example, primarily interactive exhibits. But its exhibits are clearly not those of an art gallery. 

Strictly conforming to these definitions will avoid any possible confusion.

True, once you’re in the building it will be obvious what type of institution you entered. If, for example, you wander in, trip over, and destroy, say, a fossilized skeleton of a velociraptor raptor that lived 80-million years ago or a more than two-millennia-old Doric column, then you’ve wandered into a museum. If, in contrast, you trip over and destroy a Michelangelo sculpture or a Da Vinci painting, you’ve wandered into an art gallery. See the difference?

True, regardless of what type of institution you’re in, you’ll get—at an absolute minimum—looked at askance if you destroy those priceless items. The difference is whether it will be museum or art gallery staff who give you askance looks.

But even if you can easily tell the difference once inside, words have meanings. Let’s use them as I define them, shall we?

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