Curator Leticia de Cos Martín chats about the Thyssen's new Isabel Quintanilla exhibition

The passionate art historian with more than two decades of experience at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum sits down to discuss the new Isabel Quintanilla's intimate realism exhibition, which took her three years of research to become a reality. Discover the iconic artist whose display marks the first solo exhibition for a Spanish female artist at the storied Madrid museum through the eyes of its expert curator.

Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza

For the first time in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum's storied history, the esteemed institution is honouring a Spanish woman artist with a solo exhibition within its hallowed halls—a tribute to the remarkable Isabel Quintanilla (1938–2017). A pivotal figure in contemporary realism whose career overlapped a time in Spanish history when male artists received more attention for comparable talents, Quintanilla's works are a testament to her profound mastery of technique, perseverance to keep creating, and unique perspective on reality. The collection encompasses 100 works across Quintanilla's entire career and includes some of her most significant paintings and drawings, vividly encapsulating her life and experiences. Many of these pieces have never been displayed in Spain, as they've predominantly been housed in museums and collections in Germany, where the artist achieved widespread fame in the 1970s and '80s.


At the helm of this groundbreaking showcase is Leticia de Cos Martín, a seasoned art historian with over two decades of experience at the Thyssen. As the curator of Isabel Quintanilla's intimate realism, de Cos Martín has dedicated more than three years to researching the artist's life and works, delving deep into her legacy in Spain and Germany. Her commitment and insight have been instrumental in bringing the essence of Quintanilla's world to life for a new audience. We recently sat down with de Cos Martín to discuss her work as a curator on this iconic exhibition, including its challenges, what it means to her, and why she finds Quintanilla's work priceless.




What has it meant for you personally to work on planning this exhibition?

de Cos Martín: Planning this exhibition has been a very special project for me because of the artist, who I met in 2015, and dealt with while working on the exhibition Madrid Realists (2016), for which I was the technical curator. On a personal level, it is the first time I have curated a project of this magnitude on my own for an institution as important as the Museo Thyssen.


What challenges did you encounter while curating the exhibition, and how did you overcome them?

de Cos Martín: We had very little information on the current location of many of the works that Quintanilla had sold in Germany in the 1970s and '80s, so we had to do some detective work. Quintanilla had typewritten an old contact list that only included names and German postal addresses. Through the internet and by searching databases, I found some telephone numbers and had the good fortune that many of them hadn't changed, so I was able to speak to the people who had bought Quintanilla's paintings 50 years ago. I also got in touch with German institutions that had held exhibitions devoted to the Spanish painter, and they kindly helped me locate other pieces. My knowledge of German was essential in all this, allowing me to get in touch with the collectors, many of whom I was able to visit and see their pieces firsthand.




What has been priceless for you about this exhibition?

de Cos Martín: I really valued the opportunity to study in-depth and showcase the work of Quintanilla, an accomplished artist and master of contemporary realism who worked tirelessly to reinterpret the customary language.


What have you valued above all else about your work as a curator?

de Cos Martín: I really valued being able to fulfil my role as exhibition curator with the support of an institution such as the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. It provided me with all the necessary tools to work rigorously to ensure the exhibition is of the highest quality, with an accompanying publication that can be used as a source of reference for the scientific community and the general public.