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BANNER_Alte-Nationalgalerie_EURO Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & ModernismAlte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island, Berlin: Perspective view of the main facade of the Nationalgalerie by Johann Heinrich Strack, unknown date.


In this two-part series we explore a selection of cultural highlights and monuments of German art history, providing a taster of some of the themes that will be explored in depth on upcoming ACE tours to Germany. In this article, the second of our two-part series, we travel back 250 years to celebrate the life and legacy of Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. We also discover how Berlin became a capital of culture, and delve into the history of one of its finest art collections. Moving forward to the 20th century, we discover the impact of industrialisation and the radical style of the Bauhaus School.


Germany’s artistic and historical legacy spans from the early Romanesque and Gothic art movements in the medieval period, such as the unique Brick Gothic architecture of the Hanseatic League, to its time as the epicentre of the Reformation and the emergence of later movements such as the Baroque and Neoclassicism.


As Romanticism came to dominate European culture, Germany was one of its centres, producing many famous literary and music figures. Painter Caspar David Friedrich captivated audiences with his depictions of emotional and at times uneasy landscapes. In the 20th century, Germany was home to arguably some of the most influential and pioneering modern artists and designers at the Bauhaus School. To this day the country continues to generate world-class art and design as it supports interesting contemporary work and develops its ever-growing arts spaces and industries, allowing new creatives the space and resources to develop their practices.


Romantic Landscapes in Northern Germany


In the German-speaking countries of Europe, Romanticism became the dominant force for directing art and intellectual thought during the late 18th and the early 19th centuries. In the visual arts Romanticism first began in the field of landscape painting where artists began to increase the intensity of their depictions and move away from realism and add elements of drama, often in opposition to the practices of early Neoclassical movements. Common themes within Romanticism were an emphasis on emotion, the glorification of the past and the beauty of nature. Romantic thinking influenced conservatism and nationalism, notably in the German states who were struggling with their positions following the conflict and occupation of a post-revolutionary, Napoleonic France. During a century of growing nationalism in the German states, Romanticism flourished. A shared national identity grew that would lead, by the end of the century, to the establishment of a German empire.


Caspar David Friedrich was born in 1774 in the town of Greifswald on the Baltic Sea. At the time Greifswald was part of Swedish Pomerania and had a history as a Hanseatic city. As part of Friedrich’s early education he was encouraged to make drawings on outings and gained an appreciation for sketching landscapes and natural forms. In 1798 Friedrich moved to Dresden where he would make frequent trips to the Baltic coast, Bohemia and the mountains of central Europe and northern Germany. These trips would inspire many of the artist’s more famous landscape works including Cross in the Mountains (1808). Friedrich’s works often featured mountains, forests and rivers as key elements. His signature style came to be characterised by the depiction of sunlight or moonlight on clouds and dramatic skies as well as the capture of evocative morning mists and Gothic ruins.


BLOG_Monastery-ruins-of-Eldena Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & ModernismRuined Monastery of Eldena near Greifswald by Caspar David Friedrich, 1825.


2024 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Capsar David Friedrich. In September, Tour Director Tom Abbott, an art history expert and resident of Berlin, will lead a tour across Germany to honour the Romantic painter starting in Friedrich’s town of birth, Greifswald, and tracing his legacy to his final resting place, Dresden. On the outskirts of Greifswald, travellers will have the opportunity to visit Eldena Abbey, a former monastery, of which only ruins remained even when Friedrich frequented them. The Hanseatic city itself will be honouring the painter in an exhibition titled ‘Caspar David Friedrich: Places of Longing’. This exhibition will feature the 1818 painting Chalk Cliffs of Rügen.


It was in this year that Friedrich married Christiane Caroline Bommer. The couple visited Greifswald during their honeymoon, when they spent time with relatives and made an excursion to the island of Rügen with Friedirch’s brother. The painting depicts three figures gazing over the sea and the chalk cliffs and it is often interpreted that these may represent Friedrich, his wife and brother. The palette is brighter and less austere than his other works but retains some of his stylistic signatures, such as a sense of drama – as the sea appears barren and endless – and figures who appear to be deep in thought.


BLOG_Chalk_Cliffs_on_Rgen Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & Modernism

Chalk Cliffs on Rügen by Caspar David Friedrich, 1818.


ACE travellers on the Caspar David Friedrich at 250: The Age of Romanticism tour in September 2024 will have the opportunity to visit the ‘Caspar David Friedrich: Places of Longing’ exhibition, which will feature this world-famous painting, as they trace the artist’s life and legacy. For more information and tour details click the button below:


View 2024 tour details


German Art and Unification


The long and difficult process of trying to create a unified and modern German state was finally realised in 1871 when the German princes proclaimed the German Empire in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. This process, which started in 1866, had meant that for a long time there had not been a singular capital of Germany. Without a unified capital, a number of art movements sprung up across the German states in the 19th century, similar to in other nations but exaggerated by a lack of centre for the arts.


In 1841 plans were created for a national gallery in Berlin. It wouldn’t be until 1861 that the National Gallery was founded after a donation was made of 262 paintings by German and foreign artists. Berlin, then capital of Prussia, was chosen as the location for the museum, as the city was already home to the Antikensammlung or Berlin antiquities collection. Based on a sketch by King Frederick William IV of Prussia, Friedrich August Stüler drew up plans for a museum but died before their completion. In 1867 construction began, with the then Kaiser of the German Empire, Wilhelm II, opening the gallery which would become known as the Alte Nationalgalerie. After being closed and sustaining damage during the Second World War, repairs were undertaken throughout the second half of the 20th century. Today the Alte Nationalgalerie contributes to Berlin’s status as a political and cultural heart of Germany; its galleries predominantly display an array of 19th century art including large Romantic and Impressionist collections.


Adolph Menzel, a Prussian-born painter, gained enormous popularity during the 19th century in Germany. He developed a unique style of painting in which he dramatised and celebrated Prussian military successes to the delight of Prussian and German officialdom. Menzel developed his style, which in domestic subjects was much more intimate, from early Impressionism, and was also known for depicting grand public occasions. When in 1905 Menzel died in Berlin, in a demonstration of his popularity amongst the upper echelons of German society, the Kaiser himself directed the funeral, even walking behind his coffin during the procession.


BLOG_Coronation-of-Wilheml-I Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & Modernism

The Coronation of King William I in Königsberg by Adolph Menzel, 1861-1865.


Art historian Tom Abbott will lead travellers on an exploration of the ‘Athens of the North’ on ACE’s Art in Berlin tour in April 2024. Our itinerary will take in the rich art collections and historical architecture of Germany’s capital, including visits to the famous ‘Museum Island’, a collection of museums and galleries hosting some of Berlin’s most famous artefacts and works. Museum Island is home to the Alte Nationalgalerie which hosts a vast collection of German artworks including pieces by Adolph Menzel such as The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) completed in 1875.


Menzel was known for his keen observation and detailed depictions within his paintings. The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) was completed in 1875 during a period in which he created a series of scenes depicting everyday life. The painting depicts a rolling mill for railway tracks in Silesia in which around 40 workers can be seen handling the molten metal and working with very little personal protection. The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) is said to be one of his most important works and was bought by the Berlin National Gallery in 1875 as a “moving work of heroism and duty”. Many of Menzel’s paintings stood out at the time as he chose to disregard standard painting techniques of the time and instead gained praise for his realistic portrayal and attention to detail.


BLOG_Iron-Rolling-Mill Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & Modernism

The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes) by Adolph Menzel, 1872-1875.


Travelling to Berlin in April 2024, our Art in Berlin tour will explore the vast array of artistic and historical collections as well as the rich and diverse architecture of this cultural capital. Amongst the museums and galleries our itinerary will include the Alte Nationalgalerie in which travellers may have the opportunity to view Adolph Menzel’s The Iron Rolling Mill (Modern Cyclopes). For full information and the tour details click the button below:


View 2024 tour details


Art and Design for an Industrialised World


The industrial revolution of the 19th and early 20th centuries had an enormous impact on visual arts thinking. Industrialisation brought about new technologies for creation, but, just as importantly, new audiences. It created a new middle class, a growing group within society with disposable incomes and increased leisure time, who now sought ways to spend their money either on imitating the tastes of the upper classes or on developing their own tastes and interests. With a greater number of people interested in and able to consume and participate in the arts, diverse thinking and experimentation abounded. From this cauldron of ideas the modernist movement was born, alongside a vast array of smaller styles and movements that reflected the complexities of the newly industrial world.


German art was developing through a number of loose groups and movements, many of whom were responding to the changes in society brought about by embracing industrialisation. However, conservative tastes had restricted the spread of more liberal or socialist ideas which were nonetheless stirring within the country. At the end of the First World War, the German Empire was dissolved, finally bringing about a period in which these liberal ideologies could be openly explored and expressed. Many German artists were inspired by the cultural movements that evolved following the Russian Revolution and now they were free to explore these without limitations.


The Staatliches Bauhaus, commonly referred to as just the Bauhaus, was a German art school founded in 1919 in Weimar by architect Walter Gropius. The school was founded with the intention of creating a comprehensive style across disciplines and reimagining the pupil-teacher relationship by treating the school as an artistic community. The Bauhuas aimed to bring the arts into everyday life by giving equal weight to architecture, design and applied arts to that given to fine art.


BLOG_Bauhaus-Wassily-Chairs_WikiC Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & Modernism

Four Model B3 chairs, also known as Wassily Chairs, in the Bauhaus Museum Dessau. The Model B3 was designed by Marcel Breuer while he was working at the Bauhaus in Dessau, 1925-1926.


Tour Director and expert on the Modernist movement, Alan Powers, will lead ACE’s Bauhaus: German Modern Art & Design tour in June. Our itinerary takes in three major centres: Weimar, Chemnitz and Dessau. In these cities travellers will discover a host of design and architectural highlights related to the history of the Bauhaus and German Modernism. In Dessau, the group will visit the Bauhaus Museum, housed in the original building designed by Walter Gropius.


The ethos at the Bauhaus was heavily influenced by contemporary thinking around Modernism. In order to bring the arts into everyday life, the designs created at the Bauhaus considered functionality and ease of manufacture, so that artistic works could be easily owned by anyone, especially the growing middle classes. Designers and makers at the school worked to turn mundane everyday objects into works of art in and of themselves, including chairs, kettles and even door handles.


Following political pressures and funding issues, the Bauhaus looked to relocate and in 1925 made the move to Dessau. The building complex was built between 1925 and 1926 to the designs of Walter Gropius in the international style. The Bauhaus School was active for the most time in Dessau with many of the most famous works by the group being made here. The Bauhaus Dessau features many classic international style features, such as windows and balconies that wrap around the corners of buildings, and usage of steel in both decorative elements and as a revolutionary skeleton.


In 1931 the Nazi Party gained control of Dessau city council and moved to close the school, as it opposed the teachings of the Bauhaus. The school therefore moved to Berlin for a short period of time, but under political pressure from the Nazi Party it was shut down. In the 1930s and 1940s many Bauhaus artists fled or were exiled to western Europe and North America where they continued their work and teachings, allowing the legacy of the Bauhaus to live on.


BLOG_Bauhaus_Dessau_2018 Germany’s Artistic Heritage: Fine Art & Modernism

The Bauhaus School designed by Walter Gropius in 1925, a flagship of Bauhaus architecture.

ACE’s Bauhaus: German Modern Art & Design tour in June 2024 will feature highlights of the Bauhaus School and Modernist design in Germany. Included on this tour will be a visit to the Bauhaus Museum in Dessau, which opened in 2019 to celebrate the Bauhaus centenary. For more information and the tour details click the button below:

View 2024 tour details



In the first half of this two-part series we travelled back to the height of the Hanseatic League and investigated the lasting influence on architecture left in the region. We took in the Baroque highlights of southern Germany and discovered the circumstances that brought the movement there. We also investigated the artistic collections of Dresden and its role as a centre for the decorative arts.


To read the first part of this article series click the link below:


Read Part 1


To see the full selection of German art & architecture tours click the link below:


View 2024 German Art & Architecture Tours



Image credits:

Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island | Public domain via Europeana
Ruined Monastery of Eldena | Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Chalk Cliffs on Rügen | Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Coronation of King Wilhelm | Public domain via Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
The Iron Rolling Mill | Public domain via Staatliche Museen zu Berlin
Wassily chairs | CC BY 2.0 DEED by Kai ‘Oswald’ Seidler

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