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Top 200 Collectors

Black-and-white portrait of an attractive middle-aged white woman with sculpturally styled hair

Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza


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

Contemporary art


For the London-based 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 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, among many others. 

Of late, “the Peggy Guggenheim of Vienna,” as she has been called, has focused much of her attention on climate initiatives advocated by TBA21-Academy, which also includes a commissioning program. 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.”

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.