PEX through paintings #1 – “The Scouting Party”

Monday 27 January 2020

Wandering through Madrid’s Museum Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, there is a diversity of paintings that summarise the wider context within which the inaugural meeting of the Philanthropy Europe Networks (PEX) forum took place. Potential pictures that could have been chosen as a starting point to summarise and reflect on key themes and issues from the forum include one of the various depictions of turmoil, such as Vernet’s “A Stormy Sea” – reflecting the choppy waters that foundations and philanthropy more broadly find themselves in due to a perfect storm of legitimate questions about their characteristics and contributions, simplistic and populist criticisms, as well as the growth of alternative approaches to, and models of, philanthropy.

Another option would have been to use van der Heyden’s “Crossroad in a Wood”: European foundations and philanthropy increasingly need to consider whether they continue down the same trodden path(s), or whether they pursue alternative avenues, roads that might hitherto have seen limited or no exploration, paths that will take them in different directions.

In the end, however, the most appropriate option seems to be William Tyler Ranney’s “The Scouting Party”. Why? Just like a scouting party sets out (or is sent) to explore and gather insights on something, PEX 2020 moved into uncharted territory: it brought together 120 leaders and experts from 41 national, regional, European and thematic philanthropy support organisations from across 25 countries to map and discuss the current European foundation landscape, and to envision and chart a roadmap for its future. For that, the organisers need to be congratulated.


This short blog series reflects on ten overarching points relating to the 2020 Philanthropy Europe Networks (PEX) Forum through ten paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. All images featured in the series are photos taken in line with the museum’s policy allowing no-flash photography. Free acess to digital versions of the paintings and accompanying information on copyrights are provided on the museum’s webpages at

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