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The History of the National Gallery
The Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) is a collection of art of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and belongs to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (National Museums in Berlin). It was founded in 1861 on the occasion of a bequest made by Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener, a Swedish counsel and banker, to Wilhelm I of Prussia. From the outset, the National Gallery was intended as a collection of contemporary art.
In 1876, the collection moved to the newly erected National-Galerie, the building known today as the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), designed by August Stüler and completed under Heinrich Strack. Within a short space of time, the museum directors Max Jordan and Hugo von Tschudi were able to increase the size of the National Gallery's collection through acquisitions and donations, and to extend it to an international scope. In 1909, Ludwig Justi was made director of the National-Galerie. He moved the collection towards a focus on German Expressionism. This most contemporary strand of art was exhibited in rooms at the Kronprinzen-Palais, Unter den Linden, the "Neue Abteilung der Nationalgalerie". In 1929 Justi initiated the foundation of the "Verein der Freunde der National-Galerie", the Friends of the National Gallery.
In 1937, the National Socialists confiscated the majority of works from the Kronprinzen-Palais as "Degenerate Art". Many of these were shown at the Munich exhibition of the same name and thereafter sold. The "Neue Abteilung", the National Gallery's department at the Kronprinzen-Palais was closed down. With the outbreak of the War in 1939, the whole building was closed to the public. From 1941, the remaining parts of the collection were moved in order to protect them from bombings. In 1944, the National Gallery had suffered severe war damage.
After the War, in 1946, Ludwig Justi - having been dismissed from his position by the National Socialists in 1933 - was re-installed as director of the National-Galerie on the Museum Island, and charged with re-building the collection. Until 1989, this part of the National Gallery's holdings, which had remained in the Eastern section of the city, developed into an independent collection with a significant proportion of GDR art. In 1948, to commemorate the lost collection at the Kronprinzen-Palais, the Berlin magistrate founded the "Galerie des 20. Jahrhunderts" (Gallery of the 20th Century), the holdings of which were later exhibited in the Western part of Berlin, after the city was split in half on account of the 1949 foundation of the two German states. In >1957, the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage) was founded in West-Berlin. It administered the art works which had been sheltered from the war in the West, and, over many years, built up a new complex of museums, one of which is the National Gallery. The diminished collection of the National Gallery was provisionally housed in a number of places until in 1968 it found a new permanent home in the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery), a building by the German-American architect Mies van der Rohe, where it was presented in a long-term exhibition together with the holdings of the "Galerie des 20. Jahrhunderts". Werner Haftmann, the first director of the new museum, faced the task of creating a coherent collection out of the holdings he was entrusted, and of re-installing the collection's international reputation through acquisitions and exhibitions.
In 1975, Dieter Honisch took over as museum director. He gave the collection of 20th century art the face that still characterizes it today. He repurchased a number of works which had previously belonged to the National Gallery, but he also moved the collection focus towards contemporary art. In 1977, together with the Berlin lawyer Peter Raue, he brought the "Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie" back to life. Since then, the Friends have supported the Nationalgalerie in important acquisitions and exhibitions. After the reunification of Germany, in 1991 the collection holdings of the Nationalgalerie in the East and in the West of the city were merged once again. The collection now comprised over 6000 works of art. As a result, the Nationalgalerie was reorganized:
Today, the Nationalgalerie comprises 6 museums in 3 locations. The Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (Friedrichswerder Church) are in Mitte. The Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) and the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin are in Tiergarten. The Berggruen Museum and the Collection Scharf-Gerstenberg can be found in Charlottenburg.
The Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museum Island, home of the art of the 19th century, was re-opened in 2001, after three years of restoration and refurbishment. Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, presents a selection of works from Germany's most comprehensive and important collection of 19th century sculpture.
The Neue Nationalgalerie shows the art of the 20th century, from Edvard Munch to American Color Field Painting. In 1996, the continuous growth of the holdings of 20th and 21st century art, as well as the wish to put the important private collection of Erich Marx on permanent display, led to the conversion of the Hamburger Bahnhof, an old station building, into a further museum site of the Nationalgalerie. In 2004, the adjoining Rieck Halls were made available for the sizeable Friedrich Christian Flick Collection the many facets of which are presented here in alternating exhibitions.
Also in 1996, the collection of Heinz Berggruen was opened in the Stüler building opposite Charlottenburg Palace, with a permanent exhibition entitled "Picasso and his time". This unique collection of early 20th century modern art which Berggruen, a Berlin-born art dealer and collector from Paris, compiled over several decades, supplements the Nationalgalerie's collection in an ideal way. In 2000, Heinz Berggruen assigned a large part of his collection to the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.
As from the summer of 2008, in the eastern Stüler building opposite the Museum Berggruen will house the Collection Scharf-Gerstenberg as a centre of Surrealist art. This collection comprises exquisite works of late 19th and early 20th century art and continues a collector's tradition that was started by Otto Gerstenberg in Berlin around 1910.
Undoubtedly, the Nationalgalerie, with its numerous locations, is one of the most interesting and multi-faceted museums of art of the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries in Germany.