Caspar David Friedrich, Abbey among Oak Trees, 1809/1810, detail, during treatment to remove varnish © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Kristina Mösl, Francesca Schneider
Caspar David Friedrich, Monk by the Sea, 1808/1810, cross-section of a micro-sample of a sky area, magnified 200 times © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Kristina Mösl, Francesca Schneider
Karl Begas the Elder, Portrait of Agathe Alexandra Nerly, 1847, detail; test strip for surface cleaning © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Yvonne Schaub
Carl Begas the Younger, Die Geschwister (Sister and Brother), 1877/78, marble; detail here seen during surface cleaning with micro-precision steam cleaner. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Alexandra Czarnecki
Alexander Calandrelli, equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm IV, 1884/86, bronze; detail, seen here during the removal of a synthetic-resin coating using dry-ice blasting. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / Mandy Reimann
The Alte Nationalgalerie is home to Europe’s largest collection of 19th-century painting and sculpture. In terms of the materials involved, the collection spans paintings on both textile supports – canvas, cotton, and hessian – and rigid supports, such as solid pieces of wood, artist boards of plywood, and cardboard. Added to this are the historical ornamental frames, made with different metals and finishes. The sculpture collection includes works in stone, bronze, plaster, terracotta, and wax.
The conservators’ principal task is to care for the collection. Exhibited works are regularly tested for potential signs of stress or deterioration, while objects held in the stores are also monitored when required. As part of ongoing preventative conservation, conservators continuously monitor environmental conditions in the gallery, such as temperature, humidity, and dust exposure, as well as overseeing all packing and handling of works.
Another key element in our conservators’ work is the technical analysis of the artworks and the study of their creation process. To this end, the conservators work closely with colleagues from related disciplines such as historians, art historians, archivists, and scientists.
Another vital function is the carrying out of conservation and restoration treatments. Before any treatment takes place, careful scientific tests are performed and a detailed conservation-restoration concept drawn up. The treatments are conducted according to the latest findings in conservation science. Large-scale projects involving the technical analysis and conservation-restoration of individual works or entire collections by a single artist not only improve their state of preservation and the viewing pleasure for visitors, but are vital in broadening our art-historical understanding of the art by unlocking the secrets of the techniques and materials used. A good example of one such project was the Caspar David Friedrich Project, during which the artist’s masterpieces ‘Monk by the Sea’ and ‘Abbey among Oak Trees’ underwent technical analysis and restoration.
The Conservation Department also plays a crucial role in the preparation and handling of loans, both from the gallery itself and from other museums. This includes assessing whether requested objects are fit for transport, undertaking conservation treatments where necessary, preparing the works for shipping with new fixtures for sculptures and glazing for paintings, ensuring packing and shipping crates suit the objects, and compiling facility and object reports. Conservators are involved in every temporary exhibition that takes place at the gallery itself, as well as in collaborative exhibitions held at other museums.
The department is also involved in numerous external conservation and research projects and staff also mentor young conservators as part of their academic work at various universities. The department offers internships for people about to embark on studies in art conservation, as well as longer postgrad internships for scientists heading towards their first post as conservators.
The Alte Nationalgalerie’s Conservation Department consists of two paintings conservators and a sculpture conservator.