Carmen Thyssen Museum, Malaga: the one-stop exploration into Spanish cultural history

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a press preview at the Carmen Thyssen Museum in Malaga for their new temporary exhibition, which opens on 31 March and runs until 7 October 2012.
43 works will be displayed in a show entitled ‘Paradises and Landscapes in the Carmen Thyssen Collection from Brueghel to Gauguin’, which found inspiration from Jan Brueghel the Elder’s take on the Garden of Eden.

Just a year old, the Carmen Thyssen Museum has already established itself in Malaga as one to watch. Following the renowned Museum Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza herself chose Malaga as the setting for the second museum. Being the buzzing hub of Andalucia, as well as a multicultural and well-connected city, it was a natural choice, strengthened by her excellent relationship with Francisco de la Torre Prados – the Mayor of Malaga.
Despite it being my third visit to the Museum, I still found myself getting slightly lost trying to locate it among the almost-identical streets of Malaga’s city centre - at least they seem that way to the untrained eye. Though once you locate the street, the Museum itself is hard to miss - located on Calle Compañía (in the now renamed Plaza Carmen Thyssen) close to Plaza Constitucion, in the restored 16th-century Palacio de Villalón, with a modern annexe marked with its name. The period building itself is a thing of wonder, with the contrast of the restored Renaissance doorway and carved wooden ceilings against the modern white interior.
A talk by Javier Ferrera, Director of the Museum, and Lourdes Moreno, the exhibition’s curator and the Museum’s Artistic Director, informed us of the background and current successes of the Carmen Thyssen Museum.

Over 70 per cent of the 7,147m2 of the museum is dedicated to displaying works of art. Open for almost a year, the museum has already attracted over 200,000 visitors, of which 30 per cent are not Spanish (60,000). With the focus of the permanent collection on 19th-century Spanish art, a good part of it depicting Andalucian scenes, the museum has managed to forge a strong connection with foreign visitors as the ideal place to learn about the culture and history of Andalucia and Spain.
The Permanent Collection is split into four sections: Old Masters; Romantic Landscapes and Genre Scenes; Preciosista Painting and Naturalist Landscape; and finally, the fin-de-siècle: the Modernisation of Spanish Painting.
During our guided tour of the Permanent Collection, I was welcomed into this fascinating world of art and Spanish culture. My favourite section was that of the Romantic Landscapes and Genre Scenes. This section includes a number of Andalucian scenes, since the region of Andalucia, with its cultural history of flamenco, gypsies, bullfights and religious processions, was the main subject of Romantic imagery in Spain for many painters in the 19th century.

Naturally, living in Estepona, Bamberger’s Playa de Estepona caught my eye. The typical traits of Romantic painters are evident in this painting, with the view of the beach depicting the “grandeur of nature” alongside less significant details, for example, the Rock of Gibraltar in the background and the people in the foreground.

Cejudo’s painting is really an exploration into the classic ideal of the Andalucian lifestyle. Set in a typical Andalucian patio, Andaluces en la venta shows women in their traditional dresses and with their mantónes (shawls) and abanicos (fans), the white houses with azulejos (tiles) on their walls, the flowers and the poster advertising a bullfight in Seville.

Sevillan artist Cabrera welcomes us to another Andalucian patio. This time, a wedding is being celebrated: we see the singer standing to toast the recien casados (recently wedded couple). The painting is incredibly lifelike, especially in the way Cabrera has conveyed the expressions of the people, from the delight of the priest seated next to the bride to the somewhat disapproving look of a mother behind, with her head in hand. We can only guess at the story behind that!

A fin-de-siecle painting and a favourite of the Museum, I end my highlights with Julio Romero de Torres’ La Buenaventura, one of the popular Cordoban painter’s most iconic works. We see the melancholy girl on the left, who is unlucky in love as our guide suggested, paying little attention to the other girl or the card that she is holding up. This ‘unlucky in love’ theme is continued with another story in the following layer of the painting, with a woman chasing her fleeing husband.
Despite it not being the most cheerful of paintings, it has plenty of detail to keep the viewer interested. And to the experienced art lover, there are consistent themes in this painting and in the other works of Romero de Torres. The artist set the painting in his beloved city of Cordoba, evident from the Fountain of the Fuenseca and the image of Christ – ‘El Cristo de los Faroles’ in the very background of the painting, which can still be seen in the city today.
The whole experience of visiting the Museum is made better with the high-quality facilities and services available. Complimenting the Museum, you can find the helpful information/visitor services, a cloakroom and the audio guides offering detailed information about the collection in five languages. There is also the extensive book and gift shop connected to the Museum, which is aiming to become a leading art bookshop in Malaga as well as a place to pick up a memento of your visit. Plans for a new gourmet café are also underway. Furthermore, the Museum makes the auditorium and venue spaces available for events of all types, and are available for hire to local companies.
Every visit has left me impressed by this beautiful museum, with its extensive collection of works and the welcoming atmosphere. Their commendable work within the community sees offerings of educational resources and activities hosted for students of all ages, holiday programmes, and a growing online community. Malaga is a city famous for its museums, so when you are enjoying your cultural exploration around the city - or simply getting lost in the streets - don’t forget to visit the Museum Carmen Thyssen.
All photos copyright Michelle Chaplow
Blog published on 22 March 2012