An art patron’s penchant for a mixture of styles, colours, and eras manifests in her Vienna home

Buying works of art doesn’t particularly interest Francesca von Habsburg; she prefers commissioning them directly through artists or concocting creations with her protégés.

Francesca seems to have inherited a passion for art as the daughter of industrialist Baron Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza – whose extensive art collection moved from the Villa Favorita in Lugano, Switzerland to a museum named after him in Madrid in 1992 – but she’s chosen her own path.

“Collecting is not only about material commitment, but about a passion in sharing knowledge and experience,” explains Francesca. To this end, the bustling art patron often spends time in Vienna; her Kunststiftung TBA21 art foundation (also called Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary), established in 2002, is headquartered there. Since 2012, Vienna’s Augarten public park also hosted an exhibition space, which makes the TBA21 foundation’s art available to a broader audience.


The focus of the TBA21 collection is on works that evade traditional categorisation and aren’t generally aimed at the mainstream art market – and that’s similar to the intention of Francesca’s own art. For her “interdisciplinary productions” (as she calls her projects), what she needs is space – lots of space.
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It’s a fairly unconventional approach for an internationally active collector. Unconventional also characterises her Vienna home – an airy, bright penthouse that discloses her penchant for a mixture of styles, where colours and eras are cheerfully overlaid. “I follow all my instincts with the furnishings,” she says. Vertical and horizontal elements are balanced, forming a spatial structure that’s full of excitement and surprise. The upper floor is like a spacious loft, which she also uses for family gatherings.

Precisely because Francesca travels a lot, her Vienna home is also a haven of tranquillity – one that always welcomes visitors. The lower-level rooms are ideal for retreat, including her bedroom, where she loves to lounge. “I have to have morning light in the bedroom,” she explains. “I like reading my emails in bed before I enter the hustle and bustle of the outside world. For me, it isn’t a place to sleep – but a place to be.”

Another area of projects Francesca deals with involves the “Anthropocene age” – a relatively new term, coinciding with the start of the Industrial Revolution, and centred on the notion that humans have become a geological and ecological factor impacting the planet.

What sounds like the natural sciences is also about art, because it can serve as a language to translate these complex topics into clear pictures. As early as the Renaissance, science and art have formed an inextricable entity – one which is still applicable today. Combining disciplines and breaking boundaries is a major focus for Francesca. So it’s hardly surprising that when asked where she feels most at home, she answers: “The ocean. The oceans are the beginning and the end of our climate.”

This article originally appeared in our June 2017 issue.

Photography: Reto Guntli for Living Inside