IN PICS: Behind the doors of Madrid’s sumptuous art-filled Liria Palace

Home to one of Spain's most important private art collections that includes paintings by Goya, Velazquez and Rubens, the Liria Palace was for decades Madrid's best kept cultural secret.

IN PICS: Behind the doors of Madrid's sumptuous art-filled Liria Palace
Photos: Handout / Casa de Alba Foundation / AFP

But over 14,000 people have so far visited the home of the 19th Duke of Alba, the head of one of Spain's oldest and richest aristocratic houses, since it opened its doors to the general public in September and there is a two-month waiting period for tickets.   

“The social pressure to see the collection was strong,” said Alvaro Romero Sanchez-Arjona, head of the culture department at the Casa de Alba Foundation which runs the 18th century palace located near the bustling Gran Via, the Spanish capital's main shopping street.

Its most notable paintings include a portrait by Francisco Goya of the 13th Duchess of Alba that was recently returned after being leased to the Thyssen museum in Madrid, as well as portraits of other members of the five centuries-old House of Alba by Titian and Rubens.

The library, decorated in a vivid shade of emerald, displays a collection of letters by Christopher Columbus, a first edition of Miguel de Cervantes' classic “Don Quixote” from 1605, and the Alba Bible — the first Spanish translation of the Old Testament.

Other treasures include luxurious tapestries and porcelain belonging to France's last empress and wife of Napoleon III, Maria Eugenia de Montijo, who died at the palace in 1920.

The Liria Palace was occupied by Communists during Spain's 1936-39 Civil War and was gutted by several fires that left just the four outer walls standing. But the priceless collection of paintings survived because they were stored in the cellars of the Prado museum and the Bank of Spain.

'Like a Zara window'

Duke Carlos Fitz-James Stuart and his family continue to live on the second floor of the palace which is off limits to the public but 12 rooms on the lower floors can be visited.

This is the third palace that the Albas have opened for public visits since the death in 2014 of the duke's mother, the 18th Duchess of Alba who according to the Guinness Book of Records had more aristocratic titles than any other
person on the planet.   

The Duchess of Alba dances flamenco next to her husband Alfonso Diez after their wedding ceremony at the Palacio de las Duenas in Sevilla on October 5, 2011.Photo: AFP

Known for her shock of frizzy hair, flamboyant manner and outrageous clothes, the thrice-married duchess who was born in the Liria Palace was frequently photographed at society weddings and bullfights.

She made headlines in 2011 when at the age of 85 she married a civil servant who was 24 years younger.

Before the marriage she divided her fortune — estimated at between €600 million ($665 million) and €3.5 billion — amongst her six children to convince them that her suitor was besotted with her rather than her money.

The family is prohibited from selling many of its heirlooms due to their cultural significance so opening up their properties to visitors is a way to raise funds to help offset the huge costs of their upkeep.

But the decision to allow the public in Liria Palace has divided the Albas. 

The fifth son of the 18th Duchess of Alba, Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, blasted the move in an autobiography published in September in which he also recalled how he and his siblings were raised by nannies who beat them with bamboo canes, and lived a youth full of sex and cocaine.

“My home will become a showcase like a Zara window,” he wrote, referring to the popular Spanish-owned clothing chain.

By AFP's Álvaro Villalobos

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Paul Gauguin’s ‘Mata Mua’ returns to Spain

One of French painter Paul Gauguin's most famous paintings, "Mata Mua", will return to a Madrid museum on Monday following an agreement between the Spanish government and its owner, who took it out of the country.

mata mua madrid
Toward the end of his life, Gauguin spent ten years in French Polynesia, where he completed some of his most famous artwork Painting: Paul Gaugin

The artwork had been on display for two decades at Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza museum but in 2020 when the institution closed because of the pandemic, the painting’s owner Carmen Thyssen moved it to Andorra where she currently lives.

Her decision to take “Mata Mua” to the microstate sandwiched between Spain and France raised fears she would remove other works from her collection which are on display at the museum.

“It is expected that the painting will arrive today,” a spokeswoman for the museum told AFP.


In 1989, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza bought Mata Mua at the Sotheby’s auction in New York. Painting: Paul Gauguin

The artwork will go back on display to the public “a few days after” Thyssen signs a new agreement with the Spanish state for the lease of her collection, she added. The deal is expected to be signed on Wednesday.

Painted in 1892 in vivid, flat colours, “Mata Mua” depicts two women, one playing the flute and the other listening, set against a lush Tahitian landscape.

It is one of the stars of Thyssen’s collection of several hundred paintings which are on show at the museum, including works by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Claude Monet.

Her collection had initially been displayed at the Madrid museum as part of a free loan agreement signed in February 2002 that was subsequently extended.

But in August 2021 Spain’s culture ministry announced it had reached an agreement with Thyssen to rent the collection from her for 15 years for €97.5 million ($111.5 million), with “preferential acquisition rights on all or part” of the works. The collection includes a Degas, a Hopper and a Monet.

Aside from housing her collection of works, the museum displays the collection of her late husband, Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Swiss heir to a powerful industrial lineage who died in Spain in 2002.

The Spanish state bought his collection in 1993 from $350 million, according to the museum.