May 1 2016

Image of Achtung!

Picture: BG

I'm in Berlin for 'Fake or Fortune?' so I'm afraid there won't be any news here for a couple of days.

I can report, however, that the Gemaldegalerie is a jewel among museums. The galleries, which from the outside look like a 1980s regional airport, are harmoniously laid out, with each picture given plenty of space and lit (it seemed to me) entirely with daylight. There are two rooms bursting with Rembrandts (even if some of them are wrongly downgraded to 'Umkries', or 'circle of'). I highly recommend a visit. 

The galleries were also almost entirely empty, which astonished me. I know Berlin is an under-populated city, and that the Gemaldegalerie is a little distance away from the city centre - but if an equivalent collection was in an other major European capital it would be packed. Don't they like Old Masters in Berlin? 

The emptiness of the galleries can be a little deceptive, however, for if you idly lean into a picture for a closer look - thus crossing the inlaid metal line on the floor (above) - a sharp 'Achtung!' is instantly delivered by a magically appearing guard. The invisible barrier is at least two feet away from the pictures, the majority of which are glazed, and seemed a little excessive to me. It makes life awkward if you wear glasses. I spent much of the time looking through my binoculars, about two metres back.

Perhaps the picture I most enjoyed peering into was Jan van Eyck's extraordinary (and tiny) Madonna in the Church, painted in 1440. I don't think I've seen a more atmospheric piece of painting, in terms of conveying a sense of light, space, and even sound - the expansive, echoing hush of a large 15th Century church. How amazing that the artist who invented painting in oil more or less perfected it first time around. And how galling for everyone that followed.

By the way, eat before you go to the Gemaldegalerie; the cafe is pretty woeful, and doesn't take credit cards. There's not much else nearby.

Update - there are no large pictures in the Gemaldegalerie; the large pictures were stored seperately from the smaller pictures, and sadly the bunker where they were stored was engulged by fire shortly after the war ended.

Update II - a reader writes:

I agree entirely about the Gemaldergalerie. I went last May. The Museum Island galleries are also world class ; the Bode museum, with its fire damaged statues in the entrance, has great mediaeval church art;  the Altes national gallery building is a great Karl Frederich Schinkel  monument in itself. Neither were heaving when I was there.

Update III - another reader adds:

Some comments regarding the Berlin Gemaldegallerie: 

The issue here is one of greater dimensions, since it involves not only buildings but also the environmental setting of the Kulturforum. Berlin’s Department for City Planning and Development aptly describes the situation on its German website as “challenging”, and concedes that „Architectural reality still fails to meet expectations generally evoked by the term Kulturforum.” While there are concrete plans to re-develop the Kulturforum, Berliners will most likely be stuck with the Gemaldegallerie for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, the Gemaldegallerie’s management refers to its building as “reminiscent of Schinkel’s Altes Museum” – an odd comparison and the visitor numbers prove it. According to the Gemaldegallerie’s website, “gallery rooms [are] arranged in ‘classical’ proportions around a generous lobby (“Wanderhalle”), a place for tranquility and contemplation featuring a well installation by Walter de Maria”. Personally, re-entering the (usually deserted) lobby with its ‘well installation’ after viewing pieces in the impressive collection is at best a frightening experience.

Update IV - If you've note been to gallery before, fear not, for a reader writes:

Gemäldegalerie — note that most of the interior is available on Google Street View (I found this on the Google Earth app) — altho weirdly it does not appear to allow navigating directly from one room to the next.  The biggest surprise for me was seeing the mysterious "1 B" selections circled below, which to my great surprise move vertically between floors!

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