Situated at the heart of Museum Island, a UNESCO world heritage site, Berlin’s Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) is one of Germany’s top museums for 19th century art.
As anywhere, the French Impressionists are a draw, and the National Gallery is considered to be the first museum in the world to have acquired a major work by Manet, Renoir, or Cézanne.
The focus, however, is on German art, and the museum has numerous iconic works in its collection. For those of us from the English speaking world, where 19th century German art is lesser known and poorly represented, a visit to the Old National Gallery is full of surprises:
Take Caspar David Friedrich, the great Romantic painter, whose pieces are given pride of place in the gallery. The titles alone are evocative: The Monk at the Sea, The Abbey in the Oakwood, Fog in the Elbe Valley. Or Adolph von Menzel, who did so much to construct our image of King Frederick the Great while also documenting the rapid rise of industry in Berlin.
Then there’s Max Liebermann, who painted both scenes of hard scrabble life in rural Holland and beautiful landscapes in the tradition of the Impressionists. Liebermann, who was Jewish, went from being rejected by the Prussian Academy of Arts to being elected its president in 1920. He did not live to see his wife commit suicide to avoid deportation to Theresienstadt in 1943.
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