Valuable Thyssen Art Likely to Be Sold To Spanish Museum

THE European art world has been in a tizzy in recent weeks over the news that an important part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza art collection, one of the world's most valuable, may be purchased by the Spanish government during the next few months.

The Villahermosa palace in Madrid, which opened as a musuem last October, houses nearly 800 paintings from Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza's collection, including Old Master works. These have been on loan to Spain for 10 years. Now, 680 of these paintings may be acquired for the rumored sum of $400 million, if negotiations between the Spanish government and the baron and his heirs go smoothly. According to Rodrigo Uria, the lawyer for the government, most details have been agreed upon; only the legal aspects of

the deal must be worked out.

The impending transaction has fueled increased excitement in the European press. Stories have speculated on everything from the influence wielded over the baron by his Spanish wife to the anxiousness of the Spanish government to close the deal before general elections, which must take place by October.

But the apparently sudden decision to turn over the paintings to Spain is actually the result of years of searching, on the baron's part, for a place to keep and exhibit together a great number of these works. The Villahermosa has managed to display the paintings success- fully. The reported selling price of $400 million (which is exaggerated, according to one Thyssen family member who asked not be identified) may seem like a bargain for the largest part of a collection that has been valued at about $3 b illion. But the Spanish government has already put up $43 million for the restoration of the 18th-century Villahermosa palace, and will be taking on the tremendous upkeep cost.

Furthermore, it is difficult to estimate the market value of the entire collection because if it were to be put up for sale, the market would be flooded and could collapse.

Meanwhile, as the baron, his children, and fifth wife sit down at the negotiating table with Spain over the next several months, the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection's original home, the Villa Favorita here in Lugano, is preparing to reopen on April 2. If and when the Spanish deal goes through, 100 or more of the paintings not included in the transaction (they are currently on loan to Madrid), will be free to circulate again and will likely return to Villa Favorita.

For now, the Swiss gallery will present the baron's collection of 19th- and 20th-century European and American art. Three 20th-century American paintings have already been brought back to Lugano from Madrid for the show.

Villa Favorita is also bound to take on a new life when an important exhibition of Buddhist art from China and Tibet opens this summer. The show, assembled by the baron's daughter Francesca, was described in the Dec. 9, 1992 issue of the Monitor.

Organized with St. Petersburg's Hermitage Museum and the Institute of Oriental Studies, the exhibition will feature 80 paintings, sculptures, and manuscripts from the 11th and 12th centuries found in a Gobi desert tomb in Mongolia.

The artworks are from the former town of Khara Khoto, a thriving center along the silk road that was destroyed by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

It is the first time these works will be shown as a group outside the Hermitage; once the show at Villa Favorita closes it will travel to the United States.

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