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The New National Gallery forms one of the six pillars that make up the National Gallery; with the other five being: the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) on the Museum Island Berlin, the Museum Berggruen and the Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg in Charlottenburg, the Hamburger Bahnhof - Museum für Gegenwart - Berlin in Tiergarten and the Friedrichswerder Church at Schlossplatz.
The turn of the last century saw the expansion of the National Gallery's collection to include European and contemporary art under the helm of its then director, Hugo von Tschudi. His successor, Ludwig Justi, subsequently oversaw the transfer of these new works to a New Wing which opened in the Kronprinzenpalais in 1919 and rapidly grew to be one of the leading collections of contemporary art of its day. Until 1933, several major exhibitions of contemporary artists were held there and countless acquisitions of significant works of the period of classical modernism were made.
The measures to 'clean up' the gallery, which began in 1937 and formed part of the Nazi's campaign against 'degenerate art', led to more than 400 works being confiscated. Two years later, the works of art still remaining in the collection were stored away for safekeeping to protect them from the aerial bombardment. In spite of this, numerous works were lost in the war. Immediately after the end of the war, efforts were made to try and fill the gaps in the collection that had arisen from the Nazis and the war. An important step towards this end was made in 1945 with the foundation of the 'Gallery of the Twentieth Century' by the Magistrate of Greater Berlin.
After the division of Berlin, both eastern and western parts of the National Gallery began to follow separate lines. As Dieter Honisch, Director of the National Gallery from 1975 to 1997 wrote: 'The West opened its doors to wider European and international art, the East felt bound to German art and the art of the GDR.' It was only after the formation of the Foundation of Prussian Cultural Heritage in 1957, that the part of the collection which had remained in the West was able to go on display again, this time in the orangery of the Charlottenburg Palace.
Finding the space to display the growing collection made it necessary to build a new home for it in the western part of the city. The New National Gallery, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, opened its doors in 1968 as the first museum at the Kulturforum. It housed the combined collections of the Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery) and the Gallery of the Twentieth Century.
After the reunification of Germany, the art of the 19th century, including Impressionist works, were moved to the Old National Gallery on the Museum Island and to the Galerie der Romantik in the Charlottenburg Palace. At the same time, works of modern art were taken from the Museum Island and transferred to the New National Gallery. Most important among them was the extensive collection documenting art in the GDR. Meanwhile, art from the sixties to the present day found a new home in the Hamburger Bahnhof.