unlike women, pictures can’t talk back

Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen- Bornemisza De Kaszon, who died in 2002, was one of the richest men in Europe (his fortune had been estimated at more than $5.4 billion) and the owner of one of the world’s great art collections.

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During his lifetime, the baron was considered a prime kidnapping target. All his houses were equipped with closed circuit surveillance, bodyguards and dogs. The author Dominick Dunne was acquainted with one of these guards whom he described as a cross between Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood. He packed two weapons beneath his suit, a pistol in a holster and what appeared to be a sawed off machine gun tucked into the back of his trousers.

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”Heini” Thyssen inherited from his father, Heinrich, a collection of 400 old masters, to which he added another 200 as well as 900 modern works. By 1986, the collection had overwhelmed the Villa Favorita. Thyssen was concerned that the bulk of it should be kept together after his death and had secured an agreement with his children to that effect.

Villa Favorita found here

He then asked the Swiss authorities to fund an enlargement of his museum, but they offered less than $3 million. Piqued, Thyssen embarked on a search for a new site outside Switzerland which would be worthy of his patronage. Both Prince Charles and Mrs Thatcher flew to Switzerland to put in a bid for Britain; President Mitterrand lobbied for France; the Getty Foundation offered millions of dollars for the United States; and the Swiss Government tried to block the paintings’ export.

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But in 1993 the pressure of the bedroom decided matters in favour of the birthplace of the baron’s fifth wife, Carmen ”Tita” Cervera, a former Miss Spain 22 years his junior and widow of Tarzan of the Apes actor Lex Barker. She negotiated successfully with the Spanish government who donated the Villahermosa palace in Madrid, near the Prado, to house it.

Carmen and Lex found here

Thyssen collected beautiful women rather as he collected homes and works of art – though he once observed that ”unlike women, the pictures can’t talk back”, and, as one newspaper put it, old mistresses tended to be more troublesome to him than old masters. He married first, in 1946, Princess Theresa de Lippe, by whom he had a son, Georg Heinrich.

In 1953 Thyssen began an affair with 17 year old Nina Dyer, an English model, to whom he gave a Caribbean island, two sports cars with gold-plated ignition keys, a black panther and a fortune in jewellery. He divorced Theresa and married Nina in 1954.

Nina Dyer found here

But it soon transpired that Nina loved an impoverished French actor. ”It sounds silly,” Thyssen once remarked, ”but I hate to divorce. It’s a most disagreeable operation.” Nevertheless, he swiftly divested himself of Nina who moved on to marry Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan. Indifferent to gender when it came to love partners, Nina also dallied with a selection of ladies, who called her Oliver and vied with her husbands to shower her with jewels.

Nina Dyer’s black pearls found here

Heini’s third wife was another English model, Fiona Campbell-Walter, whom he married in 1956. She gave him two children, Lorne and Francesca. But Thyssen divorced Fiona in 1964 and took as his next wife Denise Shorto, a Brazilian banker’s daughter, who was to remain with him for 17 years and bear him another son, Alexander. Denise was known to have had an affair with the baron’s art dealer, Franco Rappetti, described as a playboy, gambler and drug user, who shared women with powerful men. In 1978, 38 year old Rappetti fell or was thrown to his death from the Meurice in New York.

Denise Shorto found here

Heini’s fourth divorce was his most acrimonious. In 1981 Thyssen met his fifth wife, Carmen ”Tita” Cervera, while holidaying on the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, but marriage had to wait until 1985, when the legal battle with Denise was settled. Relations between ”Baron Heini” and his older children were aggravated by this marriage to Tita, whom Francesca described as ”the wicked stepmother”.

Carmen was an amateur painter with flamboyant tastes in interior design. The couple became an almost permanent feature of the pages of Hola!, the Spanish progenitor of Hello! magazine. Thyssen adopted as his fifth child Carmen’s son Borja, whose natural father she never publicly named……

Carmen and Borja found here