Berlin Old Masters Win Reprieve After Outcry Over Removal Plan

The Gemaeldegalerie
The Gemaeldegalerie, currently home to the Berlin's Old Masters collection, at Kulturforum on Potsdamer Platz. The collection includes works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Botticelli, Caravaggio and Raphael. Photographer: Maximilian Meisse/Staatliche Museen zu Berlin via Bloomberg

Berlin’s Botticellis, Rembrandts and Titians won a reprieve as museum authorities announced they are reconsidering plans to move them from their home at the Gemaeldegalerie to make way for 20th-century art.

The city’s museum directors have now commissioned a feasibility study to look at alternative options for housing its collections, the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation said in a statement sent by e-mail. Encompassing more than 3,000 works spanning five centuries, Berlin’s collection of Old Masters is one of the world’s greatest.

The planned move had sparked online petitions and furious newspaper columns. More than 13,000 people signed one petition calling on Berlin to “reconsider the plan to empty the Gemaeldegalerie of Old Masters.” German newspapers had warned the move threatened to “destroy one of the best museums in the world” and called it “an act of barbarism.”

“Against the background of the controversial debate, it is a question on the one hand of developing an appropriate perspective for exhibiting the Old Masters and on the other, of doing justice to the Nationalgalerie’s 20th-century collection,” the foundation said in its statement.

The Gemaeldegalerie’s treasures include works by Raphael, Brueghel, Vermeer, Duerer and Caravaggio. Their move from the Potsdamer Platz museum was announced after the city acquired a private collection of 150 surrealist paintings, sculptures and drawings from Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch.

Miro, Rothko

With an estimated value of 150 million euros ($192 million), the Pietzsch collection includes works by Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro as well as American abstract expressionists such as Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. The Pietzsches made the gift on condition that it would be displayed in one of the Berlin’s big museums.

Critics objected to the plan to move out the Old Masters in favor of modern art and temporarily showing just part of the world-class collection in the Bode Museum until a new museum is built for it on the Museum Island complex near the city’s central boulevard, Unter den Linden.

The feasibility study, to be presented in early 2013, will examine alternative options, including moving the Old Masters only after a new home has been built for them on Museum Island; leaving the Old Masters where they are and building a new museum for 20th-century art at Potsdamer Platz; and the original plan to move the Old Masters into temporary accommodation while a museum is being built for them.

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