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Flood-Hit Albertinum Reopens With Deluge-Proof Depot in Dresden

The Albertinum in Dresden, Germany
The Albertinum in Dresden, Germany, is shown in his aerial photograph taken before the museum's reopening. The building was damaged when the Elbe flooded in 2002 and has been given a new roof space for storage of art in case of emergency. Source: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden via Bloomberg News.

The Elbe flood in 2002 produced some indelible images:

Dresden, suddenly looking like Venice, its baroque palaces partially submerged. Gerhard Schroeder, in the throes of campaigning for his second term as German chancellor, wading through town in gumboots. Curators working against the clock to rescue priceless pictures from sodden museum cellars.

One of those museums was the Albertinum, which evolved from a former customs house built in the 16th century near the river. Over the years, it housed Canaletto’s cityscapes, Vermeer’s interiors, August the Strong’s bejeweled treasures, Degas’s dancers, sculpture from antiquity and Egyptian mummies.

At the height of the 2002 floods, pumps emptied water at the rate of 7,000 liters a minute as paintings were rescued. The Albertinum reopened to the public this month after a six-year refurbishment, that Dieter Roth, the general director of Dresden’s art collections, described with biblical panache as “conceived in need, born in a deluge.”

The Albertinum needed a new art storage depot before the floods. After, the situation became urgent. And the new depot is about as flood-proof as you can get. Forget cellars -- together with workshops for restoration, it hangs in the sky, 17 meters above the museum. Designed by the architect Volker Staab, it’s a bridge construction that spans a courtyard, creating an interior space beneath that is supplied with daylight via skylights.

It’s another step toward Dresden regaining its former glory as a city fit for kings, dukes and princes. World War II firebombing destroyed the center in February 1945.

Rebuilding, Reopening

It was only in 2005 that the Frauenkirche, reduced to a heap of rubble, was reconsecrated after an 11-year rebuilding. In 2006, the city reopened the Historic Green Vault, the treasure chamber of the Saxon elector August the Strong.

The Albertinum now houses paintings and sculpture from the Romantic era to the present, with the emphasis on artists with bonds to Dresden. If that sounds parochial, bear in mind that artists with ties to the region include Caspar David Friedrich, Otto Dix, Oskar Kokoschka, the Bruecke group of expressionists, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz and A. R. Penck.

There is also a Gustav Klimt painting of woodland, an early Claude Monet painting of a jar of peaches, an Edouard Manet portrait of a sitting woman, a wall full of Max Liebermann paintings and a series by Max Slevogt painted in Egypt. Dix’s “War Triptych,” with its mutilated figures and desolate landscapes, occupies one wall.

Baselitz, Richter

Baselitz and Richter, who each have rooms devoted to their work, helped win the 51 million euros ($63 million) needed to finance the Albertinum’s renovation.

They organized a sale and contributed paintings. That auction reaped 3.4 million euros; enough to persuade the state of Saxony and federal government to fund the rest. One bidder paid 3 million euros for a Richter painting, and then lent it to the Albertinum on permanent loan.

The sculpture collection, on the ground floor, includes the most comprehensive selection of Rodin statues in Germany, a Degas ballet dancer, Wilhelm Lehmbruck’s “Kneeling Woman” as well as works by Henry Moore, Tony Cragg and Per Kirkeby.

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