Although a mere 16 sculptures adorned the exhibition spaces at the opening of the Nationalgalerie in 1876, for more than a century the collection has been growing steadily through purchases made by the museum directors and gifts. Today, the Alte Nationalgalerie’s sculpture collection is considered the most comprehensive collection of sculptural art created during the long 19th century. It occupies an exceptional place within the German museum landscape, quantitatively and qualitatively.
Outstanding works by renowned national and international artists are represented in the collection, including Reinhold Begas, Antonio Canova, Edgar Degas, Max Klinger, Aristide Maillol, Constantin Meunier, Elisabet Ney, Auguste Rodin, Berthel Thorvaldsen, but also lesser-known artists. The sculptors Johann Gottfried Schadow and Christian Daniel Rauch ‒ protagonists of the Berliner Bildhauerschule (Berlin Sculpture School) are represented with extensive bodies of works and large segments of their estates that came to the museum.
Bernhard Maaz’s two-volume publication Nationalgalerie Berlin. Das XIX. Jahrhundert. Bestandskatalog der Skulpturen (2006) was the first complete, scholarly study and annotated publication of the Nationalgalerie’s holdings. It encompasses 1465 works of sculpture dating from the periods between the French Revolution and the First World War. Works made in the most diverse materials were described without prioritisation of artistic recognition or the changing appreciation for different materials over time. In addition to the supposedly “noble” sculptural materials designed to last, such as marble and bronze, many works are made in fragile plaster and alabaster, in wax, clay, wood and ivory. They include original models, casts and one-of-a-kind objects, occasionally in different combinations and variously coloured versions.
The two-volume publication was produced over two decades. It sought to be a review of the increasingly complex collection, which was primarily affected by the reunification of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the mergers of the holdings in East and West Berlin. It also includes all the works in the collection that are shown outside the Alte Nationalgalerie. Here, in particular, the Friedrichswerderschen Kirche (Friedrichswerder Church) – built by Karl Friedrich Schinkel not far from the Museumsinsel – should be noted. It has been used as a museum church and branch of the Alte Nationalgalerie for sculpture since 1987. In the same category are also the Nationalgalerie loans exhibited at the Christian Daniel Rauch-Museum in Bad Arolsen. Lost works and “Fremdbesitz” (third-party ownership) are omitted. These works are documented in separate catalogues. The annotated texts to the artworks in the print publication are currently being enhanced with new research findings, the works are being rephotographed, and they are successively placed online.