One of the highlights of our trip to Berlin was visiting the Berggruen Museum, which is opposite the Charlottenburg Palace in the West of Berlin. Although it was quite a distance from where we were staying, we were able to get there easily by taking the U-Bahn – a direct line from Alexanderplatz. It’s collection is largely devoted to only a small number of artists, but what artists -Picasso, Matisse, Paul Klee, and Giacometti. They also have some works by Braque, Henri Laurens and Cézanne, and a selection of African sculptures.
The Gallery only recently reopened in March this year and I don’t know whether word about it hasn’t got out yet because it was relatively quiet while we were there – which was a good thing for us! The collection was so good it was, literally, breath-taking. One visit wasn’t enough – but it’s not so easy to pop round to have another look! But going back to see the collection is in itself a reason for a return trip to Berlin.
The museum building is a former officer’s barracks which has been refurbished and extended, connected to the adjacent Kommandantenhaus by a glass passage. There’s also a sculpture garden in the inner courtyard.
The buildings have been beautifully restored, especially the staircase and dome in the main building.
(Image source: Archinform)
The core of the museum’s collection came from Heinz Berggruen, a Jewish citizen of Berlin, born in 1914, who had to flee Germany in 1936 to escape the Nazis. He moved to the USA and then, after the war, to Paris where he eventually became an art dealer representing Picasso. He built up his art collection which he eventually ended up selling it at a reduced price to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in 2000 as a gesture of reconciliation after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The museum has over 120 works by Picasso spanning his entire career from 16 onwards and encompassing all the different artistic styles he adopted. This meant that it was possible to see how his work changed and developed over his career. I’ve been to the Picasso museum in Paris a couple of times and was bowled over by their collection, but this was equally good if not better.
There were so many fantastic paintings that it’s hard to pick out favourites. But a couple of portraits of his lover, Dora Marr, particularly struck me. Although they were created within a year of each other, their styles are completely different.
The first is a classic cubist portrait, with distorted features and perspective, the face painted from more than one viewpoint and the childlike hands.
Dora Maar with Green Nails (1936) Image source – Berlin&I website
The second is a much more traditional pastel and pencil drawing
Dora Maar with a Crown of Flowers 1937 (Image source Artnet)
Both are extremely accomplished and, in different ways, bring out the essence of his subject.
They had a few sculptures by Picasso too. One was just a little bird made from scraps of wood and wire. Very simple but very effective. A good example of how he could catch the the essence of his subject using basic “found” materials.
70 works by Paul Klee, again covering his whole career, including his time as an instructor at the Bauhaus. Prior to the visit to the Berggruen I hadn’t seen much of his work, but the Museum have a large number of his pictures showing how his work changed and developed over his career that embraced expressionism, cubism, and surrealism. The works by Klee in the collection
… include mysterious, lyrical drawings like ‘Galgenhumor’ and ‘Den Fischen läuten’, both from 1919, which evoke Klee’s early affinity to Symbolism, as well as studies of colour and form such as ‘transparent – perspectivisch gefügt (I)’ from 1921 and ‘Nekropolis’ from 1929, which stem from his time as a teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar. Works such as ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939) and ‘Der Teppich’ from 1940, a watercolour painted shortly before he died, exemplify Klee’s later body of work. (Museum Berggruen website)
This painting “Blauer Berg” – Blue Mountain – (1919) was one of my favourites.
This is ‘Ein Kinderspiel’ (1939), one of the later paintings
It was hard to take everything in during the visit, but it has made me want to find out more about his work.
Matisse (1869-1954) and Giacometti (1901-1966) are mainly represented in by works from the later part of their careers. There were a number of paper cuts by Matisse including images from his artist’s book “Jazz” and
Die Seilspringerin (1952) by Matisse
There were several figures of standing women and walking men by Giacometti, his usual subjects. I was particularly taken by a small sculpture of a cat – almost a 3D representation of a Lowry stick figure – and an unusual subject for Giacometti.
For once, I was so overwhelmed by the art that I didn’t spend any time taking photographs (the German galleries we visited generally allowed photography). There was so much to see that I just wanted to spend my time looking at the pictures and sculptures. So at the end of the visit I thought I buy a guidebook from the Museum bookshop. However, as we found out when visiting other museums in Berlin, they didn’t seem to go for producing the “best of” type books that are common in British galleries. They had a catalogue, which was pricey but good value, but it was a monster with a photograph of just about every painting in the collection and too heavy to cart around Berlin. Not only that, I would have definitely incurred an excess baggage charge from Easyjet if I’d tried to take it on the plane home! And unlike the Tate and other major national galleries in the UK, the German National Museums (of which the Berggruen is part) have hardly any images of the art works they own on their website. So I’m having to try and rely on my memory (at least until the copy of the catalogue I ordered from the Museum arrives – I caved in and placed an order over the Internet after I got home – it’s cheaper than a return visit!)