The present collection of the museum, located on the picturesque Museum Island (Museumsinsel) in Berlin, is based on a 19th-century private collection of a German banker. Mostly it hosts German painters, but it also has some pieces of French masters like Renoir, Signac, Vlaminck. It covers the most significant art trends of the 19th century like Neo-classicism, Romanticism, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, Art-Nouveau, but it also contains valuable pieces of Expressionism, the trend that has so many and good adepts in the first two decades of the 20th century.

The paintings in the examples below were conceived in the 1830s and 1840s and all depict in a realistic manner people and home interiors. The people and the interior designs belonged to the upper and middle bourgeoisie, the social-category that became prominent in the mid 19th century, in the context of the economic and industrial modernization of the Western European societies. This social category, as the examples below show, became self-conscious of their status and they showed it in clothing and in the accessories, but above all, in the facial expression, which, noticeably in women,  gave an air of self-reliance.  The well-being of the society at large is suggested not only by the refined interior objects (lamps, furniture, curtains, carpets), but also by the idea of travelling.

As expected, the most numerous paintings are those dated in the second half of the 19th century. This richness corresponds to the complexity of the age, at both political and artistic levels. The 1870s saw the creation of the unified German state along with the establishment of a period of economic stability, which strengthened the position of bourgeoisie in society and further developed the cities. The old aristocratic families began to lose influence in front of the bourgeoisie who, in turn, established new criteria of social prestige like intellectual and professional fame. The most enduring art trend of the time was Romanticism, which exploited topics like the geographic distance and the interpretation of the present through the prism of the glorious deeds of the past. Romanticism in painting tapped enormously on the exoticization of human faces and on the beautification of human stances and accessories by integrating them in a dynamics similar to a battlefield. The public events like the ball and meeting the emperor scenes depicted in the paintings below are typical examples of Romanticism.  This cheerfulness was followed by the focus on the way the human face is reflected in the surrounding objects, with both seen as the major coveyor of the soul’s complexity. This was Impressionism. Below, you can see few pieces of its unequalled master, Auguste Renoir.

The last category described here belong to those productions of the first two decades of the 20th century. Most of them are Expressionist in style, meaning they aim to rather suggest reality than to depict it as such (that is why the night was a prefered topic and background of expressionist painters), whereas some approach realistic themes like death, human congregation having at the centre ordinary people. Germany’s long period of stability was gone at the time. Its society got through traumatic years of war and was facing the effects of a humiliating defeat and loss of authority of the German political elite. The embodiment of the latter was the Weimer Republic, whose weakness in front of the enemies of democracy was seen as the natural result of the clashes between poor and rich, between new and old in the German society. The painting reflected these by focusing on the tormented human nature as visible in the face features and in the body stances. All faces depicted in the paintings below have one thing in common, irrespective of social, gender, cultural differences: they all focus on the psychology of the person. Distance, isolation, boredom, vanity, weakness, meditation, cruelty, fragility are portrayed under the pretext of showing an attractive lady, or an upper class one, or depicting a family scene, etc.

3 thoughts on “Paintings in the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin, Germany

  1. It’s so nice to enjoy the museums. But then I see all the details you mention and realize how much I missed or didn’t quite catch while I was there. Makes me wish to go see it again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very nicely said although, to be honest, I haven’t provided info on the painters and paintings as such, but rather I was trying to connect the paintings to their major styles and especially to the major political trends of the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well then it’s very nice to see these paintings knowing more about the background context. Making connections I didn’t realize.


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