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Thyssen-Bornemisza dies at 81

Baron Hans-Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza with his wife Carmen, in front of the Villa Favorita in Lugano

(Keystone Archive)

The Swiss art collector and billionaire industrialist, Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, has died at his home in Spain aged 81.

Thyssen, who had amassed one of the world's largest private collections of art, had been ill for some time. He had worn a pacemaker for the last two years and died in the early hours of Saturday morning of cardio-respiratory failure.

Born on 13 April 1921 in Scheveningen in the Netherlands, he was the son of a Hungarian baroness, Margarita Bornemisza, and the wealthy German industrialist, Heinrich Thyssen. He acquired Swiss nationality in 1950.

His father started collecting ancient masterpieces in the 1920s and in 1932 bought the Villa Favorita on the banks of lake Lugano.

After the death of his father in 1947, Thyssen added to the collection. He accumulated more than 1,000 mainly modern works of art ranging from 19th-century American landscapes to paintings by fauvists, cubists and practitioners of Pop Art. He also opened the doors of the Villa Favorita to the public.

In 1992 he transferred a major part of the collection from Lugano to Madrid, where he lived with his fifth wife, Carmen Cevera, who had a collection of 700 works. Their joint collection is run by the Thyssen-Bornemisza foundation and is housed in a building opposite the city's famous Prado museum.

One year after the transfer, he sold 775 paintings to the Spanish state for $338 million (SFr550 million). The sale followed six years of negotiations.

Around 150 works of art remain in the villa Favorita, which is now run by his daughter, Francesca de Habsburg.

During the 1960s and 1970s he sat on the boards of 30 companies and organisations on both sides of the Atlantic.

In February this year, Thyssen and his eldest son, Georg, settled out of court after a year-long battle over the $2.7 billion (SFr4.39 billion) industrial empire.

Thyssen will be buried in the family mausoleum at the Schloss Landsberg castle in Germany.

swissinfo with agencies

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