The Nationalgalerie of the National Museums in Berlin owns one of the world's most important collections of twentieth-century art. The collection catalogue of works from 1905 to 1945 documents the development of art in this period with works in styles like Expressionism, Dada, Surrealism, New Objectivity, and other national and international trends. It encompasses the entire collection of the period, without prioritization according to highlights, central movements, or major artists. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and graphic works by hundreds of artists, among them Max Beckmann, Lovis Corinth, Otto Dix, Natalia Goncharova, Georges Grosz, Hannah Höch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paul Klee, Lotte Laserstein, Pablo Picasso, and Renée Sintenis. In addition to these well-known names, there are many others that do not fit into the all-too-simple narrative of a pure avant-garde history and open up other perspectives on the period.
The Nationalgalerie's holdings from 1905 to 1945 comprise a total of 1,805 works, including purchases, donations, and transfers, as well as objects that are in the collection as permanent loans from public entities. Works that were confiscated in the course of the “Degenerate Art” campaign in 1937 or works that the Nationalgalerie no longer owns as a result of trades or other deacquisitions are not included in the catalogue. Likewise, wartime and other losses are not listed, and nor are long-term loans from private owners. However, works of art whose legal ownership has not been conclusively clarified are listed, as are forgeries. This transparency is intended to draw attention to them and enable further research.
The works in the collection are presented with precise data, much of which has been newly researched, and in brief texts. The searchable database also contains detailed information on provenance as well as historical exhibitions and literature.
The online database is accompanied by a printed version of the collection catalogue. This is fully illustrated and, in addition to the texts on the individual works in the collection, contains two introductory essays on the collection's history and composition. This publication is available in the shop of the Friends of the National Gallery.
All provenances of the works created between 1905 and 1945, i.e. each object’s complete history with regard to owners, sales, and acquisitions, were examined in cooperation with the Zentralarchiv der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin (Central Archive of the National Museums in Berlin). In addition, systematic research on cultural property subject to Nazi persecution has been carried out in recent years where there was a concrete suspicion of wrongdoing and in the form of case studies. Specific groups of works, for example that of the former “Gallery of the 20th Century” in West Berlin (around 500 works created up to 1945) or of the Museum Berggruen (135 works before 1945) were researched over the past several years. The collection of works transferred from the Dresdner Bank to the National Museums in 1935 (a total of approximately 90 works currently in the Nationalgalerie) is also the subject of ongoing research. The results of these projects have been incorporated into the catalogue. There is still a need for further research into the provenance of certain individual works.
In addition to these investigations, it has been possible in recent years to verify the provenance of almost five hundred paintings and sculptures. The primary focus here was on the years 1933 to 1945. For the majority of these works, a persecution-related seizure during the Nazi era could be ruled out. There remain individual cases in which a suspicion of unlawful acquisition or otherwise unlawful addition to the collection has been substantiated. In these instances, restitution is currently being examined or has already been carried out. These works have not been included in the collection catalogue. For the Nationalgalerie's acquisitions since 1945 in East and West Berlin, the focus is not only on the National Socialist period, but also on the historical contexts in the Soviet sector, the German Democratic Republic, and the Federal Republic of Germany. The fact that some provenances remain incomplete despite intensive research is due to incomplete or unclear sources. Although the available information does not point to a persecution-related seizure or unlawful acquisition, the lack of information means that these cannot be completely ruled out, either. In the course of constant research on the collection, new findings may help supplement our knowledge. New results will be published in the online database.
The collection catalogue was made possible with the generous financial support of the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Leinemann-Stiftung für Bildung und Kunst, and the Friends of the National Gallery.