The Nationalgalerie showcases the art of the fantastic from the Dieter Scharf Collection in Memory of Otto Gerstenberg, on view in the eastern Stülerbau since summer 2008. The collection mainly comprises the art of Surrealism – including those artists who foreshadowed the movement and subsequent artists working in a Surrealist vein. The works on show create an arch bridging more than 250 years of art history, starting with works by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Francisco de Goya, and Victor Hugo, moving on through key figures of Symbolism, such as Odilon Redon, Max Klinger, and Alfred Kubin, and culminating in the main protagonists of the Surrealist movement, including Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and René Magritte. Art by Jean Dubuffet continues the Surrealist tradition into the postwar period.
The collection has its origins in the collecting tastes of the founder and CEO of the Victoria-Versicherung Berlin insurance company: Otto Gerstenberg (1848–1935), who built up one of the most important private art collections in Germany in his lifetime. The initial focus of his collecting activity was on the old masters, and in particular their works in the graphic medium (Gerstenberg possessed almost all prints made by Albrecht Dürer, Francisco de Goya, and Rembrandt). His attention later turned to French Impressionism and art around 1900. Besides collecting paintings by Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir, and Edgar Degas, Gerstenberg gradually came to own the complete set of prints of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. It is no exaggeration to say that Otto Gerstenberg’s collection was decimated in the Second World War; what survived of it was handed down, in 1961, to his grandsons Walther and Dieter Scharf, who integrated the works into their own collections.
Works inherited by Dieter Scharf (1926-2011) from his grandfather’s collection include prints by Francisco de Goya, Charles Meryon, and a lithograph series by Édouard Manet. Dieter Scharf used them as the starting point for his own collection, which predominantly focuses on, but is in no way limited to, key Surrealist artists. With some 300 works by more than 50 artists, Scharf’s collection can in fact claim to present a rich survey of a genre that, in terms of timespan and style, is much wider in scope than perhaps at first suspected and in which recurring Surreal and Symbolist elements play an important role. It includes works by famous artists such as Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, and Alberto Giacometti, as well as by several lesser-known but no less fascinating artists, such as Victor Brauner, Georges Hugnet, and Wolfgang Paalen, whose art, though generally unfamiliar to the public, is highly sought-after among connoisseurs.