National Gallery of Art - EXHIBITIONS
Spirit of an Age, Nineteenth-Century Paintings from the Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Introduction

Caspar David Friedrich, Moonrise over the Sea, 1822 Berlin's Nationalgalerie was founded in 1861 as the Prussian national collection of modern art. By the time it opened its doors in 1876 on the Museum Island in the heart of the city, the German states had been united and the empire established, with Berlin as its capital. Thus the Nationalgalerie quickly assumed a nationwide role, and the inscription in gold letters on its monumental façade, Der Deutschen Kunst, dedicates the building "to German art." Over the years, a comprehensive collection of nineteenth-century German paintings was assembled there that today has few rivals. The temporary closure of the Nationalgalerie for restoration has created the opportunity for this exhibition of some of the finest works from the collection.

The exhibition traces the development of German painting from Caspar David Friedrich and the romantics in the early 1800s to expressionists Lovis Corinth and Max Beckmann a century later. Many artists were drawn to Italy, while others stayed at home, painting the German landscape, its inhabitants, and their folk tales and legends. At the core of the exhibition are ten paintings by one of the most remarkable artists of the age, the technically dazzling painter and indefatigable chronicler of Berlin life, Adolph Menzel.

A vital chapter in the history of the Nationalgalerie began at the turn of the twentieth century with the acquisition of paintings by the French impressionists and postimpressionists. The emperor was outraged, as were leading academic artists. Ultimately the director was forced to resign, but these great French pictures are still here, and five are included in the exhibition. They are a reminder that a century ago Berlin was one of the world's most sophisticated and cosmopolitan cities. As the capital of a reunified Germany, it is rapidly becoming so again.

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