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Top 200 Collectors

Black-and-white portrait on a grey background of an older white woman looking right, off into the distance. She wears chunky square glasses and a white collared shirt.

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza


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

Contemporary art


For Swiss mega collector Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza, the founder of TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary 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 grew up with collecting in her blood. Her father, steel magnate Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza and founder of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, kept artworks by Canaletto and Cézanne close by. And her self-described “legendary collection” carries on the tradition with more than 1,000 contemporary works by artists including Olafur Eliasson, Walid Raad, Teresa Solar, and Wu Tsang, among many others.

Of late, “the Peggy Guggenheim of Vienna,” as she has been called, has focused much of her attention on the arts community in Spain, where the foundation moved in 2022, and on climate initiatives advocated by TBA21-Academy, which also includes a commissioning program aimed at cross-disciplinary research, using the arts to spur collective action.

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.

In 2022, during that year’s Biennale, Ocean Space presented a major commission by South African artist Dineo Seshee Bopape. Also, at the Biennale, Thyssen-Bornemisza provided major support to a new multidisciplinary project by Wu Tsang that took Moby-Dick as a starting point. One of the works, Of Whales, was included in the main exhibition, and the collector soon acquired it for her collection. It then traveled to the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in spring 2023.

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.”

Editor’s Note: For the years 2004 and 2009–18, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza was listed on the Top 200 under her married name, Francesca von Habsburg.