Im­pressed By The Im­pres­sion­ists

Rachel Stern tours one of Ger­many’s most stun­ning art col­lec­tions, housed in­side the renovated Barberini Palace in Pots­dam.


Masters of im­pres­sion­ism at the newly opened Barberini Mu­seum.

D ur­ing a World War II air raid, Pots­dam’s ma­jes­tic Barberini Palace, built in 1772 as an assem­bly house for art and culture so­ci­eties, was left in ru­ins. Now freshly re­con­structed, the palace re­opened on 20 Jan­uary this year as the Barberini Mu­seum (Hum­boldt­str. 5-6, 14467 Pots­dam,­seum-barberini. com) with an ex­hi­bi­tion on im­pres­sion­ist art. Art afi­ciona­dos as di­verse as Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and Bill Gates were present to cel­e­brate the grand open­ing.

I was im­pressed by the mu­seum, sit­u­ated about 45 min­utes from Ber­lin's cen­ter by S-Bahn, even be­fore set­ting foot in­side. Its in­tri­cate Ital­ian High Re­nais­sance-style fa­cade – mod­elled af­ter its name­sake palace in Rome – is the fo­cal point of Pots­dam’s Alte Markt, a square orig­i­nally com­mis­sioned by Fred­er­ick the Great. The royal feel con­tin­ued in­side the mu­seum, with airy, high ceil­ings and cor­ri­dors cen­tral to the orig­i­nal palace.

But most stun­ning were the hard­wood halls of hun­dreds of art mas­ter­pieces, filled with both clas­sics and lesser-known im­pres­sion­ists and GDR-era works that largely com­prise the pri­vate col­lec­tion of Hasso Plat­tner, founder of soft­ware com­pany SAP. When I vis­ited in May, the col­lec­tion cen­tered on its open­ing ex­hi­bi­tion: an ar­ray of im­pres­sion­ist art, in­clud­ing lesser known wa­ter­color land­scapes from Monet, Renoir, and Caille­botte. Start­ing on 17 June and run­ning un­til 3 Oc­to­ber, the mu­seum will un­veil the ex­hibit From Hop­per to Rothko: Amer­ica's Road to Mod­ern Art, also show­cas­ing rarely seen art works from Amer­i­can im­pres­sion­ism to ab­stract art ex­pres­sion­ism nor­mally on dis­play at The Phillips Col­lec­tion in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. . Many mu­seum gar­dens I’ve seen are filled with whim­si­cal stat­ues match­ing their en­vi­ron­ment, but Plat­tner pur­posely chose a con­tro­ver­sial cen­ter­piece: the bronze sculp­ture Cen­tury Step by Wolf­gang Mattheuer (1984). Show­cas­ing a statue with both a clenched fist and a raised salute, it makes ref­er­ence to two to­tal­i­tar­ian regimes: the com­mu­nists and the Nazis. Per­haps the mu­seum’s most mod­ern and unique fea­ture, not sur­pris­ingly the brain­child of its techie founder and his team at SAP, is the 3x5- me­ter Smart Wall. Vis­i­tors can jux­ta­pose im­pres­sion­ist land­scapes mostly from the 19th cen­tury with cur­rent pho­to­graphs of the lo­ca­tion by Ger­man pho­tog­ra­pher Christoph Ir­rgang. Some of the land­scapes were left as­ton­ish­ingly un­touched over the the years, and I left the ex­hibit ques­tion­ing not only how much art mir­rors life, but how much life mir­rors art.

From top to bot­tom: Ex­te­rior of the Barberini Mu­seum; Sun­day ,1926, Ed­ward Hop­per; Red Sun,

1935, Arthur G. Dove; Apache dance, 1938, Max Beck­mann; White Noise, Vass­ily Kandin­sky. In­set, left: the mu­seum's in­te­rior.

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