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Top 200 Collectors

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza

London; Vienna

Philanthropy (founder, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection and TBA21-Academy)

Contemporary art


For Austrian mega collector Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, the founder of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Collection and its enterprising art-and-science-minded affiliate TBA21-Academy, concerns over her next art acquisition fall below the imminence of climate-related catastrophe. “My sense of social justice plays a huge role in all of this,” Thyssen-Bornemisza said of her ambitions for TBA21-Academy, which brings artists together with thinkers in a diverse array of fields to consider drastic changes in the world’s oceans. “Art is the glue between disciplines.” Thyssen-Bornemisza (formerly von Habsburg) grew up with collecting in her blood. Her father, German steel magnate Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, founder of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, kept artworks by Canaletto and Cézanne close by. And her self-described “legendary collection” carries on the tradition with more than 400 contemporary works by artists including Olafur Eliasson, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Of late, “the Peggy Guggenheim of Vienna” has focused much of her attention on climate initiatives advocated by TBA21-Academy. Often with the aid of an ocean-going research vessel, the Academy commissions artists and others to travel the world and consider ways to help it all from falling apart. In 2019, she and the Academy opened Ocean Space in a restored Venetian church with work resulting from a long-term engagement with artist Joan Jonas, and ambitions for the future are big. Central to all of Thyssen-Bornemisza’s interests is work that draws on a collective—yet also highly personal—sense of purpose. “There are so many topics that are dear to my heart,” she told ARTnews. “As a collector, I can express myself through the works that I collect—or, in this instance, commission.”