Posts Tagged ‘allied retribution’

Book Review: Thyssen in the 20th Century – Volume 3: “The Thyssens as Art Collectors. Investment and Symbolic Capital (1900-1970)”, by Johannes Gramlich, published by Schöningh Verlag, Germany, 2015

After the ducking and diving and profiteering from other peoples’ death and misery, we will now be looking at the „shinier“ side of the medal, which is the so-called „artistic effort“ alleged to have been made by the Thyssen family. This had more to do with capital flight, the circumvention of foreign exchange controls and the avoidance of paying tax (art collections being described by Gramlich as „a valid means of decreasing tax duties as they are difficult to control“), short-term speculation, capital protection and profit maximisation than it did with any serious appreciation, let alone creation, of art.

Significantly, not a single review of this third book in the series „Thyssen in the 20th Century: The Thyssens as Art Collectors“, which once again constitutes nothing more than the shortened version (at 400 pages!) of a doctoral thesis – this time at the University of Munich – has been posted. Not a single suggestion that this student of history, german and music might not know what he is talking about, since he does not seem to have any previous knowledge of art history or obvious personal talents in the visual arts. Or about the fact that way too much of the art bought by the Thyssens was rubbish. Or that the Thyssens pretended to be Hungarian when they wanted something from Hungary, Swiss when they wanted something from Switzerland, or Dutch when they wanted something from the Netherlands.

In fact if there is one overall message this book appears to propagate it is this: that it is the ultimate achievement to cheat persistently, and as long as you are rich and powerful and immoral enough to continue cheating and myth-making all through your life, you will be just fine. Not least because you can then leave enough money in an endowment to continue to facilitate the burnishing of your reputation, so that the myth-making can continue on your behalf, posthumously. And if by any chance you can take advantage of another person’s distress along the way, so much the better – as Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have done from the Jewish collections of Herbert Gutmann and Max Alsberg and Fritz Thyssen from those of Julius Kien and Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild.

But: does anybody find this message acceptable?!

Mysteriously, this book also contains some very derogatory descriptions of the Thyssens’ true characters. Fritz Thyssen is described (in a quote by Christian Nebenhay) as „not very impressive“ and „meaningless“. His brother Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza is said to have been „difficult“, „unpleasant“, „avaricious“, „not always straight in his payment behaviour“ and somebody who „could not find the understanding for needs and aspirations of people who were in a relationship of dependency from him“. Amelie Thyssen is said to have tried to get the historical record bent very seriously as far her husband’s alleged distancing from Nazism was concerned and to have lied about the date of art purchases to avoid the payment of tax.

Fortunately, we did not know any of these second-generation Thyssens personally. But we did know Heini Thyssen, the last directly descended male Thyssen heir, and very well at that. Over the period of some 25 years (Litchfield more than Schmitz) we were lucky enough to be able to spend altogether many months in his company. We both liked and miss him greatly. He was a delightful man with a great sense of humour and sparkling intelligence. What was most astonishing about him, considering his family’s general sense of superiority, was his total lack of arrogance.

Heini Thyssen described the art business to us as „the dirtiest business in the world“. He knew of the secret-mongering of dealers, the hyperboles of auction houses and the dishonesties of experts. It was a choppy sea that he navigated with just the right combination of caution and bravado to be successful. But of course, he also used the art business outrageously in order to invent a new image for himself. The reason why, contrary to his father and uncle, he was extremely successful in this endeavour, was precisely because he was such a likeable man.

But this did not make Heini Thyssen a moral man. He continued to cheat about his nationality, the source and extent of his fortune, his responsibilities and his loyalties just as his father, uncle and aunt (and to some extent his grand-father) had done before him. And now, this series of books continues to perpetuate the very same old myths which have always been necessary to cover the tracks of these robber barons for as long as the modern-day German nation state has existed. The size and claimed value of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection also persuaded many members of the international art community and of the general public to accept this duplicity.

The all important Thyssen-owned dutch Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, for instance, is repeatedly said to have been founded in 1918, when the real date is most likely to have been 1910. This is important because the bank was the primary offshore tool used by the Thyssens to camouflage their German assets and protect their concern and fortune from allied retribution after the first lost war. But the information is precarious because it also implies a massive disloyalty of the Thyssens towards Germany, the country that was, is and always will be the sole original source of their fortune.

And again Heinrich and Heini Thyssen are said to have been Hungarian nationals, presumably because it is meant to excuse why, despite supporting the Nazi war machine that made possible some of the worst atrocities in human history, the Thyssen-Bornemiszas entirely avoided allied retribution after the second lost war also. In reality, Heinrich Thyssen’s Hungarian nationality was highly questionable, for several reasons: because it was originally „bought“, was not maintained through regular visits to the abandoned country, extension papers were issued by Thyssen-sponsored friends and relatives in diplomatic positions and because Heinrich actually maintained his German nationality. In Heini’s case, his status depended entirely on the fact that his mother’s second husband worked at the Hungarian embassy in Berne and procured him the necessary identity papers (a fact that will be plagiarised from our work by „Junior Research Group Leader“ Simone Derix in her forthcoming book on the Thyssens’ fortune and identity, which is based on her habilitation thesis (!) and as such already available – Strangely, despite being volume 4 in the series, her book is now said to be published only following volume 5). To call those Hungarian nationalities legitimate is plainly wrong. And it matters greatly.

When Philip Hendy at the London National Gallery put on an exhibition of paintings from Heini Thyssen’s collection in 1961, Heini apparently told Hendy he could not possibly be showing during the same year as Emil Bührle, because “As you know Bührle was a real German armament king who became Swiss, so it would be very bad for me to get linked up with German armament“. But this was not, as this book makes it sound, because Heini Thyssen did not have anything to do with German armament himself, but precisely because he did! Since this partial source of the Thyssen wealth has now been admitted by both Alexander Donges and Thomas Urban, it is highly questionable that Johannes Gramlich fails to acknowledge this adequately in his work.

Then there are new acknowledgments such as the fact that August Thyssen and Auguste Rodin did not have a close friendship as described in all relevant books so far, but that their relationship was terrible, because of monetary squabbles, artistic incomprehension and public relations opportunism. The only problem with this admission is that, once again, we were the first to establish this reality. Now this book is committing shameless plagiarism on our investigative effort and, under the veil of disallowing us as not pertaining to the „academic“ circle, is claiming the „academic merit“ of being the first to reveal this information for itself.

Another one of our revelations, which is being confirmed in this book, is that the 1930 Munich exhibition of Heinrich’s collection was a disaster, because so many of the works shown were discovered to be fraudulent. Luitpold Dussler in the Bayerischer Kurier and Kunstwart art magazine; Wilhelm Pinder at the Munich Art Historical Society; Rudolf Berliner; Leo Planiscig; Armand Lowengard at Duveen Brothers and Hans Tietze all made very derogatory assessments of the Baron’s collection as „expensive hobby“, „with obviously wrong attributions“, containing „over 100 forgeries, falsified paintings and impossible artist names“, where „the Baron could throw away half the objects“, „400 paintings none of which you should buy today“, „backward looking collection“, „off-putting designations“, „misleading“, „rubbish“, etc. etc. etc. The Baron retaliated by getting the „right-wing press“ (!) in particular to write positive articles about his so-called artistic endeavours, patriotic deed and philanthropic largesse, an altruistic attitude which was not based on fact but solely on Thyssen-financed public relations inputs.

The book almost completely leaves out Heini Thyssen’s art activities which is puzzling since he was by far the most important collector within the dynasty. Instead, a lot of information is relayed which has nothing whatsoever to do with art, such as the fact that Fritz Thyssen bought Schloss Puchhof estate and that it was run by Willi Grünberg. In the words of Gramlich: „Fritz Thyssen advised (Grünberg) to get the maximum out of the farm without consideration for sustainability. As a consequence the land was totally depleted afterwards. The denazification court however came to the conclusion that these methods of exhaustive cultivation were due mainly to the manager who was doing it to get more profit for himself“. Apparently Grünberg also abused at least 100 POWs there during the war but, after a short period of post-war examination, was reinstated as estate manager by Fritz Thyssen. This gives an indication not only of the failings of the denazification proceedings, but also of Thyssen’s concepts of human rights and the non-applicability of general laws to people of his standing.

One is also left wondering why Fritz Thyssen would be said to have bought the biggest estate in Bavaria in 1938, for an over-priced 2 million RM, specifically for his daughter Anita Zichy-Thyssen and son-in-law Gabor Zichy to live in, when Heini Thyssen and his cousin Barbara Stengel told us very specifically that the Zichy-Thyssens, with the help of Hermann Göring, for whom Anita had worked as his personal secretary, left Germany to live in Argentina in 1938, being transported there aboard a German naval vessel. After repeating the old myth that Anita’s family was with her parents when they fled Germany on the eve of World War Two, this book now makes the additional „revelation“ that Anita and her family arrived in Argentina in February 1940, without, however, explaining where they might have been in the meantime, while Fritz and Amelie Thyssen were taken back to Germany by the Gestapo. Of course February 1940 is also the date when Fritz and Amelie, of whom Anita would inherit, were stripped of their German citizenship, a fact that was to become crucial in them being able to regain their German assets after the war.

The defensive attitude of this book is also revealed when Eduard von der Heydt, another Nazi banker, war profiteer and close art investment advisor to the Thyssens, is said to be „still deeply rooted and present in (the Ruhr) in positive connotations, despite all protest and difficulties“. This has to refer not least to the fact – but for some reason does not spell it out – that some Germans, mindful of his role as a Nazi banker, have managed to get the name of the cultural prize of the town of Wuppertal-Elberfeld, where the von der Heydt Museum stands, changed from Eduard von der Heydt Prize to Von der Heydt Prize. Clearly because Willi Grünberg was but a foot soldier and Eduard von der Heydt a wealthy cosmopolitan, Grünberg gets the bad press while von der Heydt receives the diplomatic treatment, in the same way as book 2 of the series (on forced labour) blames managers and foremen and practically exonerates the Thyssens. It is a distorting way of working through Nazi history which should no longer be happening. Meanwhile, Johannes Gramlich is allowed to reveal that in view of revolutionary turmoils in Germany in 1931, Fritz Thyssen sent his collection to Switzerland only for it to be brought back to Germany in the summer of 1933 – as if a stronger indication could possibly be had for his deep satisfaction with Hitler’s ascent to power.

In the same period, Heinrich, after his disastrous 1930 Munich exhibition, teased the Düsseldorf Museum with a „non-committal prospect“ to loan them his collection for a number of years. It is also said that he planned to build an „August Thyssen House“ in Düsseldorf to house his collection permanently. Considering the time and huge effort Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza spent during his entire life and beyond on not being considered a German, it is strange that Johannes Gramlich does not qualify this venture as being either a fake plan or proof of Heinrich’s hidden teutonic loyalties. In view of the dismal quality of Heinrich’s art there was of course no real collection worth being shown at the Düsseldorf Museum at all, which did not, however, stop its Director Dr Karl Koetschau from lobbying for it for years. He was disappointed at Heinrich’s behaviour of stringing them along, which is an episode that leaves even Gramlich to concede: „(the Baron) accepted all benefits and gave nothing in return“. While the „Schloss Rohoncz Collection“ is said to have arrived at his private residence in Lugano from 1934, this book still fails to inform us of the precise timing and logistics of the transfer (some 500 paintings), a grave omission for which there is no excuse. It is also worth remembering that 1934 was the year Switzerland implemented its bank secrecy law, which would have been the ultimate reason why Heinrich chose Lugano as final seat of his „art collection“.

The many painfully obvious omissions in this book are revealing, particularly in the case of Heini Thyssen having a bust made of himself by the artist Nison Tregor when the fact that he also had one made by Arno Breker, Hitler’s favourite sculptor, is left out. But they become utterly inacceptable in the case of the silence about the „aryanisation“ of the Erlenhof stud farm in 1933 (from Oppenheimer to Thyssen-Bornemisza) or the involvement of Margit Batthyany-Thyssen, together with her SS-lovers, in the atrocity on 180 Jewish slave labourers at the SS-requisitioned but Thyssen-funded Rechnitz castle estate in March 1945. Both matters continue to remain persistently unmentioned and thus form cases of Holocaust denial which are akin to the efforts of one David Irving.

It is also astonishing how the author seems to have a desperate need for mystifying the question of the financing of Heinrich Thyssen’s collection, when Heini Thyssen told us very clearly that his father did this through a loan from his own bank, Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart. This fact is very straightforward, yet Johannes Gramlich makes it sound so complicated that one can only think this must be because he wants to make it appear like Thyssen had money available in some kind of holy grail-like golden pot somewhere that had nothing to do with Thyssen companies and confirmed that he really was descended from some ancient, aristocratic line as he would have liked (and in his own head believed!) to have done.

The equally unlikely fact is purported that all the details of every single one of the several thousand pieces of art purchased by the Thyssens has been entered by „the team“ into a huge database containing a sophisticated network of cross-referenced information. Yet, in the whole of this book, the author mentions only a handful of the actual contents of Thyssen pictures. Time and time again the reader is left with the burning question: why, as the subject was so important to the Thyssens, did they leave it to such an unenlightened man rather than an experienced art historian to write about it? Is it because it is easier to get such a person to write statements such as “personal documents (of Fritz Thyssen) were destroyed during the confiscation of his fortune by the National Socialists and his business documents were mainly destroyed by WWII bombing“, because the organisation does not want to publish the true details of Fritz and Amelie’s wartime life? (one small tip: the bad bad Nazis threw them in a concentration camp and left them to rot is definitely not what happened). Or because he is prepared to write: „The correspondence of Hans Heinrich (Heini Thyssen) referring to art has been transmitted systematically from 1960 onwards“ and „for lack of sources, it is not possible to establish who was responsible for the movements in the collection inventory during the 1950s“ , because for a man whose assets are alleged to have been expropriated until 1955, it would be difficult to explain why he was able to buy and deal with expensive art before then?

Was Dr Gramlich commissioned because a man with his lack of experience can write about „APC“ being an American company that Heini Thyssen’s company was “negotiating with”, because he does not know that the letters stand for „Alien Property Custodian“? Or because time and time and time again he will praise the „outstanding quality“ of the Thyssens’ collections, despite the fact that far too many pictures, including Heinrich’s „Vermeer“ and „Dürer“ or Fritz’s „Rembrandt“ and „Fragonard“ turned out to be fakes? The Lost Art Coordination Point in Magdeburg, by the way, describes this Fragonard as having been missing since 1945 from Marburg. But Gramlich says it has been missing since 1965 from the Fritz Thyssen Collection in Munich, when it was “only valued at 3.000 Deutschmarks any longer, because its originality was now questioned”.

At one point, Gramlich writes about the „two paintings by Albrecht Dürer“ in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection without naming either of them. He describes that one of them was sold by Heini Thyssen in 1948. It went to the American art collector Samuel H Kress and finally to the Washington National Gallery. What Gramlich does not say is that this was in fact “Madonna with Child“. The other one remained in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection and can still be viewed at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid to this day under the title „Jesus among the Scribes“. Only, it has received a highly damning appraisal by one of the world’s foremost Dürer experts, Dr Thomas Schauerte; Johannes Gramlich does not tell his readers about this.

The truth in all this is that no matter how many books and articles (and there have been many!) are financed by Thyssen money to tell us that Heini Thyssen bought German expressionist art in order to show how „anti-Nazi“ he was, such a thing is not actually possible and is not even believable after the Nazi period. It is ludicrous to say that August Thyssen saw Kaiser Wilhelm II as „Germany’s downfall“, since he had the Kaiser’s picture on his wall and started buying into the Bremer Vulkan submarine- producing shipyard in 1916, specifically in order to profit from the Kaiser’s war. And it is not believable, in view of Fritz Thyssen’s deeply-held antisemitism, to say he helped Jakob Goldschmidt to take some of his art out of Germany in 1934, because he was such a loyal friend of this Jewish man. Fritz Thyssen helped Jakob Goldschmidt despite him being Jewish and only because Goldschmidt was an incredibly well-connected and thus indispensable international banker – who in turn helped the Thyssens save their assets from allied retribution after WWII.

All the Thyssens have ever done with art – and this book, despite aiming to do the contrary, does in fact confirm it – is to have used art in order to camouflage not just their taxable assets, but themselves as well. They have used art to hide the problematic source of parts of their fortune, as well as the fact they were simple parvenus. In the same way as Professor Manfred Rasch is not an independent historian but only a Thyssen filing clerk (the way he repeatedly gets his „academic“ underlings to include disrespectful remarks about us in their work is highly unprofessional), so the Thyssens are not, never have been and never will be „autodidactic“ „connoisseurs“. And that is because art does not happen on a cheque book signature line but is, in its very essence, the exact opposite of just about anything the Thyssens, with a few exceptions, have ever stood for.

As Max Friedländer summarised it, their kind of attitude was that of: „the vain desire, social ambition, speculation for rise in value….of ostentatiously presenting one’s assets…..so that this admiration of the assets reflects back on the owner himself“. Despite the best efforts of the Thyssen machine to present a favourable academic evaluation of the Thyssens’ art collecting jaunts, in view of their infinitely immoral standards, the assurances of both the aesthetic qualities and investment value of their „art collections“, as mentioned so nauseatingly frequently in this book, are of no consequence whatsoever. The only thing that is relevant is that the extent of the family’s industrial wealth was so vast, that the pool of pretence for both them and their art was limitless. Thus their intended camouflage through culture failed and the second-generation Thyssens in particular ended up being exposed as Philistines.

Johannes Gramlich

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The Times They Are A Changin (The Sale of Villa Favorita, Lugano – Part 1), by Caroline D Schmitz

The lack of a fair distribution of assets in the world has reached a stage where the wealthiest 1% own more than the remaining 99% of the population, according to Credit Suisse. The Thyssens are a prime example of how a fortune, created through the dilligence of a few founding fathers and generations of their plants’ workforce, has multiplied exponentially through the use of financial instruments, multiple citizenships, political lobbying, press manipulation and, most of all, tax avoidance. It was the last great Thyssen himself, Hans Heinrich („Heini“) Thyssen-Bornemisza, who told us: „I am a tax evader by profession. If you wanted to be correct, I should be in jail“. Villa Favorita in Lugano, Ticino, Switzerland, the closest the Thyssen-Bornemiszas ever got to a family seat, has been the symbol of their often rapacious attitude – hidden behind the veneer of their famous art collection – which has until recently gone unquestioned, accepted and even admired by the wider public.

Even before the First World War, Heini`s grandfather August, whose power base were the German steel mills and coal fields of the Ruhr, created a family bank in Rotterdam, the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart (BVHS), as an offshore bank for the Thyssen industrial empire. Heini’s father Heinrich, who had gained Hungarian nationality and a contrived aristocratic status through marriage, settled in Holland, took charge of the bank and fended off the post-war allied reparation claims, as well as the spiralling early 1920s hyperinflation. His Dutch lawyers created further financial instruments such as Rotterdamsch Trustees Kantoor and Holland American Investment (respectively Trading) Corporations. This situation later allowed Heini to consequently deny the family`s German connections while they continued well into the 1980s to draw their profits from the country.

The Thyssens were very well connected on the highest political level. They hosted Adolf Hitler several times at their residences in Holland and Germany during the Weimar Republic and, amongst other contributions, made a loan of 350,000 Reichsmark through BVHS to finance the Brown House in Munich. After August’s death in 1926, and on the advice of Heinrich`s social and financial mentor Eduard von der Heydt, the Thyssens began to orientate themselves towards Switzerland. Heinrich started buying works of art to reinforce his „gentlemanly“ image but mainly, according to Heini, „as an investment and a way of moving money“. The 530 paintings he acquired between 1928 and 1938, though of questionable quality and provenance in many cases, and earning negative reviews when the first 428 were exhibited as „Schloss Rohoncz Collection“ in Munich in 1930, laid the foundation of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection now housed in Spain.

In 1926 and 1931, in the Swiss canton of Schwyz, Heinrich`s advisors created the Kaszony and Rohoncz Collection Family Foundations to hold and protect his inherited corporate assets and his art purchases respectively. Then, in 1932, he purchased 50,000 m² of Lake Lugano shoreline, comprising sub-tropical gardens and 12 buildings, a plot which had once been a whole quarter of noble villas, the most important being Villa Favorita. As Heinrich had bought the main residence complete with all furnishings in order to immerse himself in the style of the former princely owner, Leopold of Prussia, from 1936 to 1940 he had another building erected to house his art. But the exact logistics of the transfer of the paintings from their various points of purchase into Switzerland has remained shrouded in secrecy (its move out of Switzerland to Madrid half a century later was almost celebratory by comparison!).

In 1937, Heinrich’s Lugano lawyer Roberto van Aken, achieved a most favourable tax deal for his client with the Ticino authorities, as well as a Swiss foreigner’s passport, on the understanding that the collection be opened to the public. But while that same year his curator Rudolf Heinemann produced the first Lugano-based catalogue, the collection remained closed. Presumably neither side thought it wise to draw attention to the fact that this German tycoon was sheltering in Switzerland as his businesses supported Hitler’s genocidal war of aggression and exploited industrial slave labour – even though Helvetia profited from coal imports out of Heinrich’s Walsum mine through the Swiss Bank Corporation in Zurich. His German managers regularly visited him there, including the director of the August Thyssen Bank in Berlin, which organised funds for the world-wide German counter-espionage through Switzerland.

After 1945, this mutually beneficial Swiss safehaven arrangement guaranteed that Heinrich, who was initially named on the list of war criminals to be judged at the Nuremberg war crimes trials, entirely escaped allied retribution. He died at Villa Favorita in 1947, untouched by public controversy, though ravaged by his long-standing, advanced alcoholism. The public myth of the Thyssen-Bornemiszas’ untainted background could now fully develop.

His main heir Heini sorted out the vast inheritance and negotiated a new tax deal with the Swiss authorities by promising in 1948 to open the collection to the public. And so, Heini Thyssen, who had only ever possessed questionable Hungarian identity papers extended him by his step-father, Janos Wettstein, from the Hungarian embassies in The Hague and Berne, in 1950, after several attempts and with American assistance, gained full Swiss citizenship. Having become a founding member of the jet set and polished his image with the help of his British, third wife Fiona, in the early 1960s Heini turned to buying art to distance himself from the shadows of the family history. Through Eric Pfaff, an international trust lawyer, working out of offices in Luxembourg and the Isle of Man, he discovered Bermuda and had his first financial instruments created there, while many of his art purchases were made tax-efficiently through Liechtenstein-based instruments such as Art Council Establishment and Internationale Finanz- und Kunsthandel AG.

Then, in the mid-1970s, the first light breeze of change started wafting in as the Ticino authorities introduced more rigorous tax laws. But far from agreeing a compromise, Heini Thyssen responded by moving his official residence first to Monaco and later on to the United Kingdom. When he also threatened to close the gallery at Villa Favorita – by then one of the town’s and canton’s main tourist attractions – his Lugano lawyer, Dr Franco Masoni, managed to push through an extension of his client’s advantageous Swiss tax deal. Clearly it was in Heini’s power to pressurise the city fathers by inviting them to „consider the detrimental effect [this closure would have] on suppliers and employees“ and adding with sarcastic irony that he felt sure his „leaving the canton could be achieved without any publicity“…

Despite the continuous Swiss incubation of the fortune of Heini Thyssen-Bornemisza, who, in his 60s, by now had three ex-wives and four children, it was in Bermuda, under British law, that his advisors created, in 1983, two family trusts to protect his Thyssen Bornemisza Group (TBG) and his collection of paintings and artefacts from possible feuds over inheritance. The latter had by now trippled in size to over 1,500 works of art and its value was being promoted through auction houses, international travelling exhibitions and a lavish, Sotheby’s-promoted „catalogisation“ programme.

Shortly after his final marriage in 1985, in England, to the Spanish fire-cracker Carmen Cervera (who, it is thought, may already have enjoyed Swiss citizenship as a result of her 1960s marriage to Lex Barker), she too began, with Thyssen money, to buy art and, immediately, instruments, such as Nautilus Trustees Limited in the south-Pacific Cook Islands, were created for her use. It was not least at her instigation, in the early 1990s, that Heini Thyssen sold half his collection to Spain for 350 million dollars (plus a similar cost in housing and complex administration fees) and divided the net proceeds, as well as the other half of the collection between his heirs, through further, tax-free Bermudan sub-trusts. Now Carmen, with Heini’s help, could turn to creating and advertising her own Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, thus spinning the money machine ad infinitum, while simultaneously creating a new, higher-quality personal image for herself.

Considering the depth of gratitude the Thyssens should have felt towards Switzerland for shielding them from revelations of Nazi collaboration and profiteering, this end to the Villa Favorita public gallery was more than ignominious. Heini topped his arrogant attitude by denying the generous offer that the Swiss had actually made him, in 1986, for keeping his collection in Lugano. His daughter Francesca continued to keep the gallery alive for a while with a few exhibitions, but some fifteen years ago it closed its doors for the last time. It is difficult to understand, apart from their greed, why the Thyssens did not have the grace to leave an endowment of a small „starter“ selection of paintings, plus the villa and grounds as a gift to the town. Considering the size of their fortune, they could easily have done so (and one day it might turn out that it would have been a wise thing to have done). But presumably, having achieved an advantageous tax deal in Spain, based on their collection, such a gift would have caused…….. a tax problem!? It was Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza’s charming lawyer Jaime Rotondo, who in 2013 confirmed to the Spanish press outlet El Confidencial/(in collaboration with the Consorcio Internacional de Periodistas de Investigacion), in a somewhat questionable quote, that „the contracts of technical and cultural assistance she has signed with Spain [for the cession of over 700 paintings of her private collection to various museums means that Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza can live in Spain all the time she wants without having to pay tax on her patrimony there]“.

In 2002, Heini Thyssen died and his widow Carmen inherited his 60 million dollar TBG dividend shortfall and a 132 million dollar share in his private estate, also several houses including the „Dynasty-que“ seat of Villa Favorita. When a year later she submitted to the Lugano building authorities a pre-project for the erection of four modern villas on its grounds, Swiss alarm bells started ringing. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung urged the authorities to „save this Swiss national cultural treasure“ and added that the Swiss Homeland Security Authority (Heimatschutz) had asked the communal, cantonal and federal authorities to act. Even a purchase by all three levels jointly was suggested. But while the paper went to great lengths to accuse officials of „stubborn desinterest“, it failed to mention the asking price, which was only revealed a decade later as being over 100 million Swiss Francs.

Then, in 2004, Swiss Info reported that cantonal levels were finally awakening from their „lethargy“ and negotiating with Tita Thyssen over Villa Favorita. The mayor of Lugano said that the lakeside area was placed under the protection of the Ticino cantonal commission of cultural assets and the Swiss federal commission for the protection of historical monuments and landscapes. Tita had renounced building on this area in return for a permit to build behind the gallery. Suddenly, town and canton were in a great hurry to achieve a deal. But still the canton did not wish to make any gifts to Tita, who, a decade ago, was said to have left the place „slamming the door with her collection under her arm“, while Pascal Couchepin, Swiss Minister of the Interior, was quoted as saying he doubted a sale to a private entity could be achieved. A wealthy Lugano municipal councillor then put one million Swiss Francs on the table to help the commune and canton enter negotiations.

While in 2010 it became known that Tita Thyssen had sold the last building plot of the grounds for 30 million Euros for the completion of eight Herzog & Meuron-designed luxury apartments by early 2015, negotiations for the sale of the main estate went quiet again. During that time, on the back-drop of a global financial crisis leaving her homeland Spain with a heavy debt burden and big (especially youth) unemployment rate, Tita adopted two surrogate children in California, her son Borja married and had four children and the two started mud-slinging very publicly over inheritance issues. In 2013, it was reported that a court judgment in Bermuda had revealed one of the trusts, which Borja has a 35% entitlement in, alone to be worth 1 billion Swiss Francs. But despite the crisis, the Spanish media at first still treated scenes such as CCTV pictures of Borja breaking into Tita`s office at La Moraleja, Madrid, to gain financial information, or Tita’s very public insistence on paternity testing for Borja’s children as fun entertainment. Later the mood began to change and the Spanish press slowly dropped its tolerant approach, particularly when Offshore-Leaks (via SonntagsZeitung, Spiegel Online, Huffington Post and others) publicised the extent of Carmen Thyssen’s art handling tax avoidance schemes and King Juan Carlos abdicated amidst allegations of widespread corruption amongst the Spanish elite. Suddenly her turning up for board meetings at the Madrid museum in her Rolls Royce Phantom (something her late husband would never have had the bad taste to have done) was said to „leave employees and visitors open-mouthed“.

By 2012, while the Swiss business magazine Bilanz was still ranking her as 7th richest woman in Switzerland, in Spain Tita was claiming on a somewhat theatrical level, via Vanitatis, to be going through her own liquidity crisis, which she said was caused by „800 million Euros worth [a non-binding valuation by Sotheby’s] of art loaned free of charge by myself to the state of Spain for 13 years“. She could hardly hide her frustration at the Spanish still not having bought her paintings from her, as they had once done with her husband’s collection. But with the precarious state of the monarchy adding to the economic crisis, she should perhaps have been grateful that they did not hand her collection back, for her to fund its maintenance, insurance, exhibition etc. Carmen Thyssen was left with no option but to sell a Constable (The Lock) – apparently through Omicron Collections Limited in the Cayman Islands –  allegedly for 20 million pounds sterling (doubling the purchase price of a suspiciously high 10 million pounds in 1990) and further humiliated in the summer of 2014 when the Spanish tax authorities carried out a very public raid on her yacht “Mata Mua” in Ibiza, while she was on board (as reported by El Mundo). In her immediate rage she threatened to leave Spain and move back to Villa Favorita with her two adopted girls in tow. Not the first time she had issued such a warning.

So the news in December 2014 that Tita Thyssen has sold Villa Favorita to the Italian cheese-making family Invernizzi, for 65 million Euros, was understandably picked up with huge interest by the Spanish media. The 28 days in which Heini`s children had the right to match the sale price and retain the villa in the family have elapsed, and the sale is now final. One presumes Tita will be paying a little parting gift of tax on this deal in Switzerland, regardless of which trust or foundation the ownership of the villa is held in, as she waves good-bye to the country and brings to a close 83 years of a colourful relationship between the Thyssen-Bornemisza family and Ticino. It will be interesting to see how the Swiss will treat their memory of this family now that they have no reason to remain diplomatic, and equally so to see how the Spanish will treat Carmen Thyssen as she can no longer threaten them with a „cultural exodus in reverse“. There is one thing that could be almost guaranteed: that the opportunity once open to Heini Thyssen to play off one country against another, in their eagerness to host his fortune, will not be inherited by his successors.

p.s.: At our time of going to press, the Spanish press outlet Economia Digital reveals that Carmen Thyssen has this week bought two properties, for herself and her son Borja, in Andorra, for a total of 10 million Euros and comments: “Tita Cervera has Swiss nationality and since her youth her fiscal residence has been there. But for the last 20 years she has been a habitual resident of the Principality of Andorra. Sources knowledgeable about the aristocrat`s movements have signalled to this paper that she would be finalising a change in her tributary situation according to the double taxation agreements which Andorra holds with different countries and that it will permit her to also transfer her fiscal residence to the country where she actually lives.”

With the “99%” of the population of Spain increasingly taking to the streets to complain about the austerity policies, one wonders how much longer these shenanigans of the residual “1%” will last.

" Crocodile Tears ". (Carmen Cervera aka Tita Thyssen-Bornemisza, photo: El Confidencial - Vanitatis, Spain)

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