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Patrons of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

From the founding of the Nationalgalerie to the bust of Nefertiti, the gifts and generous support of patrons were instrumental in shaping the profile of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in its early days. In the 21st century, too, magnificent exhibitions, research projects and new museum buildings are made possible by collaborations with collectors based on relationships of mutual trust.

The origins of the collections

In the first half of the 19th century, the banker Joachim Heinrich Wagener (1782-1861) assembled what was at the time Berlin’s largest private collection of paintings from both Germany and abroad. His bequest of 262 canvases to the Prussian state led to the foundation of the Nationalgalerie, supplementing the Royal Museums with a home for contemporary art.

During his time as Director of what were then the State Collections, Wilhelm von Bode (1845-1929) was also known as the “Bismarck of the museums”. Over his lifetime he created an international network of collectors, donors and patrons. He also founded the Kaiser Friedrich Museumsverein, which is still in existence today, thus ensuring financial support for the development and expansion of numerous collections and departments.  

James Simon (1851-1932) was one of the most important patrons of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. A Berlin merchant, he financed excavations and donated numerous valuable objects to the Bode-Museum, the then Museum für Deutsche Volkskunde (now the Museum Europäischer Kulturen), the Münzkabinett, and the Egyptian and Near Eastern departments of what were then the Prussian State Museums. The best-known of these donations is the bust of Nefertiti, now on display in the Neues Museum on the Museumsinsel.

Famous internationally as the founder of the Villa Massimo, Eduard Arnhold (1849-1925) also gave generously to various institutions of the Staatliche Museen and financed a number of excavations. He also donated paintings by Titian, Liebermann, Manet and Cezanne, along with 100,000 marks towards the acquisition of the “Enthroned Goddess from Taranto” for the Antikensammlung.

Collaboration with collectors

Thanks to collaboration with collectors, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin is able to make first-rate 20th-century art accessible to the public. Private collectors have the advantage of being able to assemble collections with a specific profile, in a way that public cultural institutions cannot. To display them adequately, new galleries are often needed, and for this reason donations and permanent loans of large collections by major collectors such as Erich Marx, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch and Egidio Marzona often go hand in hand with the creation of new museums. The Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart and the new building for the Nationalgalerie at the Kulturforum, currently under construction, are cases in point.

The Museum Berggruen owes more than its name to the collector, Heinz Berggruen. Since 1996, a large section of the unique Heinz Berggruen Collection, including masterpieces of modern art by Picasso, Paul Klee and Henri Matisse, has been on display in the Stüler building in Berlin‘s Charlottenburg district. In 2000 Heinz Berggruen made it possible for the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin to purchase 165 works from his collection for a fraction of their estimated value. As a result, the Nationalgalerie, which suffered devastating losses during the Nazis‘ iconoclastic purge of modern art, is now once again one of the most important modern art collections.

As well as generous long-term loans of around 2000 works, which have been very successfully exhibited at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart since 2004, the collector Friedrich Christian Flick has donated a total of 270 contemporary artworks to the Nationalgalerie. The works are by such important international artists as Stan Douglas, Dan Graham, Rodney Graham, Candida Höfer, Paul McCarthy, and Pipilotti Rist. Collaboration with the collector began in 2004 with the exhibition of the Friedrich Christian Flick Collection at the Hamburger Bahnhof. Flick transferred ownership of an initial 166 works in 2008, followed by a further 104 in 2015, on the occasion on his 70th birthday.

Thanks to donations from Egidio Marzona, the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin has succeeded in filling the considerable gaps which existed in its collection of 1960s and 1970s art. In 2014 the collector gifted 372 important works of Concept Art, Minimal Art and Arte Povera to the Nationalgalerie and the Kupferstichkabinett. He had already given unique and valuable archival material relating to 1960s and ‘70s art to the Kunstbibliothek in 2002.

The outstanding collection of Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch will be housed in the Nationalgalerie’s new building at the Kulturforum. In 2009 the couple gave around 120 works of Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism to the federal state of Berlin, with the stipulation that they should be permanently loaned to the Nationalgalerie. A further condition was that suitable and adequate exhibition space should be created for works by artists including Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Max Ernst and René Magritte. This will be achieved in the next few years when the new building at the Kulturforum is completed.

The permanent loan of the collection of Erich Marx was the main catalyst for the foundation, in 1996, of the Hamburger Bahnhof – Nationalgalerie der Gegenwart. With numerous outstanding works by Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Anselm Kiefer, Donald Judd, Julian Schnabel and Eberhard Havekost, the collection represents every important artistic development since 1960. In 2015, Marx also presented the Staatliche Museen with the world-famous installation by Joseph Beuys, “The Capital Room 1970 – 1977”, on permanent loan. Like most of the Marx Collection, this work find a permanent home in the new Nationalgalerie building at the Kulturforum.

In 2008, thanks to the support of the Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin, the Kulturstiftung der Länder and the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin was able to purchase the very valuable collection of Japanese lacquerwork originally owned by Klaus F. Naumann. The following year, the collector donated 100 important works of traditional Japanese art to the Museum für Asiatische Kunst. These precious objects will be on display at the Humboldt Forum from 2019.

In 1991 the gallery owner and collector Otto van de Loo donated 55 works of post-war European art to the Nationalgalerie. Thanks to Van de Loos’ generous gift, the museum now owns one of the most important collections of artworks by the members of the CoBrA artists’ group, their milieu and their successors.