Princesses and painters

20 Sep

Symbol of Fortuna by Andreas Heidt, dancing on the dome at Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin.

Berlin weather can be very changeable! Yesterday as we started off for Schloss Charlottenburg, the sky was crystal clear and bright blue, not a cloud. By the time we had lunch at the Schloss cafe, clouds were moving in, and within 15 minutes, it was raining! P1000986And of course, being silly tourists from a place where it never rains, we had brought no umbrella or rain gear with us…P1010002 (1)

No matter, we just waited a moment, and the drops stopped long enough for us to walk through the lovely gardens, and to admire that playful nude atop the Schloss dome–meant to represent Fortune, designed by Andreas Heidt.  The palace was built at the request of Sophie Charlotte, wife of Friedrich III of Brandenburg, and was meant to be a summer home, so a bit more lighthearted than the more formal digs at Potsdam.


Wilhelmine von Preussen and Auguste von Preussen, by Friedrich Bury, 1808-10. The sisters had to flee the French during the Napoleonic Wars; they are depicted here as ambassadors of freedom and peace.

Before lunch, we went through an excellent, informative, and intelligently presented exhibition at the Schloss called “Frauensache: wie Brandenburg Preussen wurde”–“Women’s Business: how Brandenburg became Prussia”.   The title is a bit  misleading, but consciously so. The aim was to emphasize the role of women in creating what became Germany, starting with the early Hohenzollern House, and showing how all these little principalities and margravates and dukedoms were merged by marrying daughters into oneanother’s dynasties. Quite subtly, the message was clear: without these aristocratic women being married off to other royal families and bearing children to carry on the name, what we know today as Germany would not exist. And what a mishmash of familial intermarrying! Guelphs, Gonzagas, Wittelsbachers, Hannovers–they all played a part in far-flung empire-building. The exhibition focussed as well on how women influenced culture and social attitudes.   In one of the principalities, for example, it was the wife of the ruler who first became a follower of Luther at the time of the Reformation. Especially intriguing was the section on the rise of Bismarck and the solidification of the Prussian state. Throughout his ascendancy, Queen Victoria’s daughter Victoria, married to Kaiser Friedrich III, wrote daily letters to her mother decrying Bismarck’s influence and pleading with her mother to find ways to save Germany from what we now know as its militaristic future. If only women could have had more power!  It was a very persuasive presentation of a complicated history and idea.

While walking through the gardens, we came upon this sight: a Muslim bride, with her bridesmaids, having her photo taken in front of the Mausoleum in which some of the Prussian princesses were entombed. Isn’t this an interesting tableau? The figures on the right look like they have stepped about of a painting by the Macchiaioli. And I love the photographer and assistant holding the frame on the left. P1010007

After dodging the intermittent rain, we travelled from Charlottenburg to Dahlem, the very leafy upper-class suburb to visit the intimate Bruecke-Museum.P1010012 (1) P1010014 (1) Back in the 1980s, when I was writing a catalog about the Expressionist collection at Lawrence University, I had visited before, at which time the neighborhood was the toniest in West Berlin. It’s still a tony neighborhood, but Berlin’s center has shifted.  I’m always amused that the radical anti-bourgeois upstarts of the Expressionist movement should now have such a prestigious address!

The small, focussed exhibitions that the Museum displays are my kind of exhibitions. This time it was a consideration of the friendship between Erich Heckel, one of the best-known of the Bruecke artists, and the relatively unknown Max Kaus, a Berlin artist who worked from the 1920s well into the 1970s. I have always liked Kaus’s quiet images, often of his wife Turu, and as was evident here, often including cats.P1010023 (1)P1010024 (1) A woman artist walking through the galleries with us said that she had met him back in the days when she studied at the Kunstakademie, and unlike all the other artists of that time, Kaus was the only one who didn’t have affairs with the students and was a quiet, considerate man.

Admission to this museum also allowed us entry to the newly-opened Kunsthaus-Dahlem next door. The man at the information desk at the Bruecke-Museum told me that it had been Arno Breker’s sculpture studio. I said “THE Arno Breker??” to which he responded “Ja.” Wow! Breker was one of Hitler’s favorite sculptors, the creator in this very space of some of the most execrable, creepy statues imaginable. Opi-Breker-Prometheus1938-DW-Kultur-What a trip! P1010031 (1)

So we went in.
It is now newly opened as a space for the display of post-war sculpture–not a Breker in sight. And who should we see there but the woman who had been a curatorial assistant at LACMA, Dorothea Schoene! She is now the director of this new space. She didn’t quite remember who I was, which just goes to show how far down on the ladder I was in that place, but she remembered when I prompted her. What a serendipitous meeting, and a nice ending to a two-museum day.

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