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The Nationalgalerie (National Gallery) was founded in 1861 on the basis of a generous donation made by the banker, Joachim H. W. Wagener. His collection embraced 262 works by German and international artists. At first, the newly founded gallery, still named "Wagenersche und Nationalgalerie", occupied rooms in the Academy of Art at Unter den Linden. In 1876, the collection moved to new premises on the Museum Island. The building it was housed in, today known as the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), had been erected between 1866 and 1876 by Heinrich Strack after designs by August Stüler. Like no other museum, this building has remained loyal to its original purpose: a museum of the 19th century for the art of the 19th century.
The profile of the collection was decisively shaped by the great foresight of the museum's directors: in particular by Hugo von Tschudi and Ludwig Justi. Tschudi risked provoking the Kaiser's anger when he insisted on purchasing art by the French Impressionists. Justi, his successor, continued this progressive policy by acquiring major Expressionist works, which today are on view in the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) at Kulturforum.
Parts of the Alte Nationalgalerie were badly damaged during the Second World War. Up to the current day it has still not quite been established which art works were destroyed during that period and which made their way to Russia under the circumstances of war. After the war, the Alte Nationalgalerie was restored and partially reopened in 1949. By 1955 all the exhibition halls were once more open to the public, showing both contemporary works and the collection of 19th century art. As a result of the political division of Germany, the National Gallery was divided up, too: important masterpieces remained in West-Berlin. The 19th century collection was first shown in the Orangery at Schloss Charlottenburg, then, from 1986, at the Gallery of Romanticism, also in Schloss Charlottenburg, until finally, with the reunification of the National Gallery's collection in the early 1990s, the works returned to their ancestral place on Museum Island. As the first on the island, the museum was closed from 1998 until 2001 for complete restoration.
Since reunification, the works of the 19th century have been on view in the Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museum Island. The Neue Nationalgalerie at Kulturforum presents art of the 20th century, the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin shows contemporary art and the Museum Berggruen in the Western Stülerbau in Charlottenburg houses early 20th century art from the Heinz Berggruen collection. Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (Friedrichswerder Church) presents sculptures of 19th century Berlin Classicism.