Museum Berggruen counts among the world’s most important museums for twentieth-century art. Over the course of 66 years Heinz Berggruen assembled this collection of superb works of art by some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century: Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Alberto Giacometti.
Upon invitation from the National Museums of Berlin in 1996, Heinz Berggruen (1914–2007) exhibited his art collection under the title Picasso and his Era across from the Charlottenburg Palace in the classicist building by Friedrich August Stüler, which was refurbished for the purpose. Four years later, in an internationally appreciated gesture of reconciliation, he pledged to bequeath the extensive collection of 165 artworks to his hometown of Berlin and the public. After his death the family decided to augment the museum with the privately owned works, for which the neighboring building on Spandauer Damm was connected to the existing building. A sculpture garden in the interior courtyard enriches the Charlottenburg museums ensemble.
Heinz Berggruen bought his first work of art in 1940 at the age of 26 during his American exile in San Francisco: the aquarelle Perspektiv-Spuk by Paul Klee. Without any capital or sponsors he opened his gallery in Paris seven years later and began collecting art. He relied on his sense of quality and his intuition, concentrating consciously on the works of a small number of classic modern masters. Pablo Picasso granted him the privilege of being the exclusive dealer of his prints. While building his Picasso collection with works from all of the artist’s creative phases, Heinz Berggruen over the following fifty years also concentrated on collecting works by Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Alberto Giacometti. He was the first – during the artist’s lifetime – to discover the importance of Matisse’s almost abstract later works. The collection of Matisse works is the largest exhibited collection in Germany. Heinz Berggruen first exhibited his entire collection publically at the Art Museum of Genf in 1988; it was then on display in the National Gallery of London for five years before moving to the Stülerbau in Berlin-Charlottenburg, opposite to Charlottenburg Palace, which had been refurbished specifically for the collection.
The Berggruen Collection focuses on the art of Pablo Picasso and holds over 100 works from all of his creative phases. Beginning with a study sketch made at the age of 16, the collection includes works from Picasso’s Rose and Blue Periods, cubism, classicism, and the late works up until 1972. African sculptures augment the exhibition of Picasso’s works. Individual artworks by Georges Braque and Henri Laurens also complement the collection.
The Berggruen Collection’s second focus, with over sixty works, is the poetic art of Paul Klee. The twenty works by Henri Matisse represent the largest publically exhibited collection of his work in Germany. Sculptures by Alberto Giacometti both open and close the presentation of the collection in the Museum Berggruen.
Olivier Berggruen: The Museum Berggruen Collection
The newly expanded Museum Berggruen gives the collection assembled by my late father, Heinz Berggruen, the breadth and space that it deserved. The division of the collection into two wings, one devoted primarily to Picasso, the other one to Cézanne, Matisse, Giacometti and Klee, allows for the visitor to get a sense of the development of these artists’ careers, and also the way in which their works are connected.
My fathers’ collection, born out of the geographical displacement caused by the second World War--he bought his first Klee drawing from another German émigré in Chicago in 1940--went through numerous incarnations over the years. It was first presented to the public at the Musée d’art et d’histoire in Geneva in 1988.
As the American chronicler James Lord once remarked, Heinz Berggruen was primarily interested in the work of a handful of modernist artists; Klee, Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse and Giacometti became the pillars of his collection.
My father was also the spiritual heir to the dealer-collectors of the early twentieth century, such as Wilhelm Uhde and D.H. Kahnweiler, with whom he shared common German roots and a similar aesthetic sensibility. The central figure in his aesthetic upbringing, however, was the English art critic and collector Douglas Cooper (1911-1984). At a young age Cooper had the means to assemble a significant collection of modern art, which he later displayed at the Château de Castille in the south of France. He shunned established artists of the École de Paris (Bonnard, Vuillard, Rouault, Matisse during his years in Nice) in favour of what he termed “authentic” Cubism, that of Braque and Picasso, Léger and Gris. He viewed Cubism not so much as a style but as a form of artistic expression of a generation that was as equally brilliant as the one that had allowed the Italian Renaissance to flourish. Although it remains controversial, such a vision became deeply influential in our way of understanding Modernism.
My father befriended Cooper, and eventually acquired some works of art (by Klee among others) from his collection. Apart from Picasso, Cooper was the greatest influence on his career. In the nineteen-fifties, Heinz Berggruen was successful enough as an art dealer and publisher to start collecting and buying in a serious manner. Among his first notable acquisitions was Cézanne’s portrait of his gardener Vallier, a vibrant watercolour from the late period, formerly in the Vollard collection. It is now one of two seminal works in a ground-floor gallery devoted to Cézanne in the new wing of the museum; the other one is a contemplative portrait of the artist’s wife, Hortense Fiquet.
Klee was naturally among the first artists whom he collected in greater depth. Examples of his work came from Paul Éluard, who was one of the first collectors of Klee in France, from Douglas Cooper, and from Marie-Laure de Noailles, the unofficial patron of the Surrealist group. The Klee collection evolved a great deal over the years, with a milestone reached in 1984, when Heinz Berggruen donated 90 works by the Swiss artist to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Undeterred, he started putting together a new collection of works by Klee, and this is what shines through in the new wing of the museum, particularly the years from the Bauhaus, which was a period of great creative effervescence for Klee.
In the early years of his gallery, Heinz Berggruen had managed to assemble a significant group of Picassos, including the lovely pen-and-ink drawing Le dormeur, 1942 (bought from Paul Eluard in 1952). Further works bought in the fifties include the Verre d’absinthe, 1914, a large study for the Demoiselles d’Avignon and the Chandail jaune, 1939, acquired from Rosenberg in 1959. In the early sixties he bought Still-Life with Piano, 1911-12.
In those days, there were relatively few collectors compared to now. And there were plenty of works to be found locally in Paris or elsewhere, long before the art-market acquired a semblance of uniformity. My father’s interest lay not only in trophy paintings but also in quirky, intimate works (often on paper) such as the many Picassos on paper, which testify to the latter’s love of experimentation, whereby he re-used and rearranged formal and thematic elements from one medium to another. But surely Heinz Berggruen’s greatest opportunity came in 1979 with the dispersal of the Rosenberg Collection, sold by the heirs of Picasso’s dealer Paul Rosenberg. In the auction, my father succeeding in buying three works: Seated Nude drying her Foot, 1921, Still Life in front of a window, Saint Raphael, 1919, and The Sculptor and his Statue, 1933. These works are among the finest works of art at the Berggruen Museum.
During the last decades of Heinz Berggruen’s life, the collection was once again refined and redefined. Fast rising prices on the art market made his quest increasingly more difficult. Nevertheless, some of his greatest successes took place in the auction room, with the acquisition of Picasso’s Reclining Nude, 1942 from the auction of Victor and Sally Ganz’s collection in 1997 and, a few years later, at Sotheby’s in New York, with the purchase of Nu jaune, 1907, a fresh, vivid study on paper for the Demoiselles d’Avignon. Then there were some of the works bought from the estate of Dora Maar, including the iconic Dora Maar with Green Finger Nails, 1936.
Towards the end of his life, Heinz Berggruen also came around to Picasso’s late works, which he had neglected earlier. Although he thought that Picasso was at his best in later years as a printmaker and draughtsman (of which he had accumulated significant examples), he thought that the museum should also have a few major, late paintings, such as Matador and Nude, 1970. With such a comprehensive collection of works by Picasso, more space was needed than the original Stuler-Bau could offer, and devoting the new wing solely to Picasso achieves that goal. Many visitors have remarked on the intimate scale of the rooms, which are indeed suited for the exhibition of works which are all part of the tradition of easel painting.
When my brother Nicolas and I were informed of the plans for the extension of the museum under the capable direction of the team of architects Kuhn Malvezzi, it was agreed among family members, including my mother, Bettina Berggruen, that we would join forces in order to place on long-term loan some family works of art as well. In addition to this, we were able to acquire a few key works with the idea of complementing the existing collection. Among them, Femmes d’Alger (Version L) by Picasso, and a magnificent Klee painting from the Bauhaus period.
The new wing’s design by Kuhn Malvezzi achieves coherence, since old and new wings have comparable proportions and a similar feeling. The rooms on either side of the glass link between the two wings have been ingenuously devoted to sculpture—Picasso and Matisse on the one end, Giacometti on the other. Finally, the new wing allows for the hanging to be modified, and to provide space for temporary exhibitions focused on the artists in the collection and their influence on the latter part of the 20th Century.