Initially loaned for a period of nine and a half years and then bought outright in 1993 by the Spanish government, the museum's collection is the product of the collector's passion of the recently deceased Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and his father, Baron Heinrich.
Baron Heinrich began the collection in the 1920s and managed to accumulate around 525 paintings over the course of his life. Upon his death in 1947, the collection was divided up and dispersed among his heirs. Subsequently, his son, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, keen to reassemble the collection, bought back the works from his relatives.
The collection soon outgrew Villa Favorita, the complex purchased by his father to house it in the Swiss town of Lugano, and the baron decided to seek out a new location for his art. The proximity of the Prado Museum and the quality of the premises offered him by the Spanish government convinced him to move the collection to Palacio de Villahermosa in Madrid, a late 18th-century building renovated by Rafael Moneo.
The Foundation is devoted to the conservation, study, exhibit and dissemination of the works of art that make up the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection. Its standing programmes (temporary exhibits, educational activities, conference cycles, "The Painting of the Month" series, concerts, etc.) and the museum's day-to-day activities aim to ensure that visits are as enriching as possible for all visitors, from groups of schoolchildren to art experts or tourists from around the world.
In addition to exhibiting its collection, the Thyssen actively engages in research, conservation, restoration, educational and communications-related work. The Foundation has geared its efforts and initiatives toward involving and promoting the world of art in society through institutional development programmes (the Friend Card, volunteer programmes, etc.) and special promotions (private visits, the Art Walk, etc.).
The museum places high priority on holding temporary exhibits. The exhibit programme blends conventional exhibits (three a year) with contextual ones, which focus on the works included in the permanent collection and are held two or three times a year. In honour of one of the museum's most successful exhibits, El Greco: Identity and Transformation, a new audio guide service was launched to facilitate exhibit tours.