thomas m wilson

Alte Nationalgallerie

August 19th, 2023

Another wonderful building on Museum Island is the old national gallery building. King Freidrich Wilhelm IV had the idea of a temple-like building raised on a plinth decorated with motifs from antiquity, and that is the Alte Nationalgalerie we have today.

I think the lawn in front of this temple to the arts must be one of the nicest spots to sit in Berlin (you can see WW2 bullet holes on the fluted column in the left foreground).
Abbey among Oak Trees
Caspar David Friedrich 1809/1810

Perhaps the most well known German painter in the world today is Caspar David Friedrich. His painting from the early nineteenth century ‘Abbey Among Oak Trees’ is in my opinion the best darkly Gothic painting of all time. Seeing it in the full size original you are struck by its ineffable force, its spiritually poised atmosphere of mortality and mystery. Monks gather under the ruins, and the early dawn light. My intuition is to not try to describe the painting too much as much of its pleasure is in one’s own individual reception of it.

Flute Concert with Frederick the Great in Sanssouci
Adolph Menzel 1850 – 1852

I have mentioned before that the man who is very central to the history of Germany and of Berlin, Frederick the Great, was an excellent composer of flute music, and player of the flute. In the audio guide to this painting they have helpfully included some eighteenth century flute music, and standing in front of this very large canvas and listening to the music the candle lit atmosphere of cultivation and good taste of that long lost world, conjured by Menzel so perfectly in this painting, comes through strongly. Gorgeous.

Balcony Room with a View of the Bay of Naples
Carl Gustav Carus circa 1829/1830

I for one can think of few better things than having a room that gives onto an old harbour town quay, with the sea beyond, and a guitar laying nearby. I’m clearly not the first person to love this ensemble.

‘Cherry tree in blossom’ by Auguste Renoir, 1881

This painting by Renoir took me by surprise. So much luminous colour and beauty. How could you not be lifted up by this if you saw it on your wall every day, showering you in colour and abundance? Possibly the painting that has startled me most with sheer pleasure and warmth.

After the Rain
Gustav Klimt 1898

Thanks to a special exhibition I was able to also see some of the paintings of Klimt, on loan from Vienna. The above painting really struck me with its lambent glow and strange beauty. Unfortunately that is hard to recognise on an electronic screen.

The Alte Nattional Gallery had a long line outside when I went. However if you really want to experience great art and you are in Berlin, I suggest heading to the Gemaldegalerie, which is what I did next…