The Städel Museum ranks among Europe's richest and most prestigious collections of ancient and modern art. The original nucleus of the collection came into being thanks to merchant and banker Johann Friederich Städel (1728-1816). He bequested to the City of Frankfurt his extraordinary private collection, thus creating a foundation that was unique in Europe for its time. Ever since, the already copious original nucleus has been consistently enriched by new acquisitions, both of old masters and of contemporary art. To date, the Städel Museum holds over one hundred thousand artworks that document the entire development of European art from the Renaissance to the present day. In line with the modernist vocation of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, the exhibition will concentrate on the 19th and early 20th century portion of the Städel collection. Through a succession of major masterpieces and articulated over seven stylistic and chronological sections, the show will illustrate the mounting clash and reciprocal contamination of artistic styles, currents and movements that determined the progress of European art history from Romanticism to the early Avant-garde.
Classicism and Romanticism The show opens with a panorama of early 19th century German Classicism, introduced by the famous portrait of Goethe reclining with the Roman campagna in the background. Completed in 1787 by Tischbein, this portrait has come to epitomise the myth of the Italian Grand Tour. A broad selection of German artists active in Italy in the early 19th century (Pforr, Fohr, Blechen, Koch) is intended to convey an idea of the cultural context at the time of the founding of the Städel Museum, whose direction was entrusted in 1830 to the Nazarene painter Philipp Veit. "Nazarenes" was the name given to a group of young German painters who broke with their country's academic tradition and in 1809 left for Rome in search of inspiration from nature (the Classical landscape) and in order to return to ancient sources (Renaissance painting). Having taken up residence in the Franciscan Monastery of Sant'Isidoro, the group embraced a life of supreme spiritual concentration. Their art is notable for its traits inspired by the Renaissance masters and for its frequent use of figures from Christian symbology. In the same gallery works by Friedrich, Dahl, Lessing and Delacroix document the various channels taken by the figurative culture during Romanticism, from the ethereal poetic expressions of the northern Sublime to the tempestuous moods of the exotic south.
Realism and en plein air Painting Among the consequences of the aesthetic revolution introduced by Romanticism, with traditional values swept away in favour of a newfound predilection for representing emotions, was a reappraisal of sketches and preparatory drawings made from life to the level of artworks in their own right. The individual interpretation of elements from landscape and nature through such preparatory studies was greeted with ever-greater interest and began to be considered on a par with subjects from the established academic tradition. This second gallery is devoted to Realist painting towards the middle of the 19th century, illustrating the culture of Romanticism and the reactions it entailed, from the classical Italianising works of Corot on the one hand, to the descriptive and decidedly more realistic painting of Courbet on the other. Daubigny's Orchard, on the large wall at the far end of the gallery, ranks as one of the most evocative examples of late-19th century en plein air painting. The developments of 19th century Naturalism into Symbolism and Impressionism is highlighted in works by Thoma and von Hude and Monticelli, Guigou and Cézanne respectively, while the well-known Cottage near Nuenen hangs at the end of this gallery to highlight the complex and layered position of Van Gogh in relation to the artistic currents in Europe at the time, from Realism to Symbolism and Impressionism.
Symbolism This gallery reflects the varied nature of the Symbolist movement, represented through its greatest exponents (Böcklin, Moreau, Redon, Munch, Ensor) with their depictions of imaginary, unsettling worlds, juxtaposed against a sophisticated group of artists with a more intimate and suspended Symbolist declination such as Knopff, Altheim, Hodler. Max Klinger's Portrait of a Woman on a Rooftop of Rome acts as a solemn backdrop to the different expressive currents represented elsewhere in this gallery. In 1892 critic Albert Aurier wrote of a "paradoxical revolution" playing out alongside his generation's obsession with scientific analysis and naturalistic observation of the world. "Invain", he wrote, "art that is only materialistic, experimental and immediate struggles against the assault of new idealistic and mystical currents. From every corner people are now claiming their right to dream". Gustave Moreau is the precursor of this movement, whose distinguishing trait was an instinctive refusal for observation from nature. Inspired by Moreau, Odilon Redon devoted his art to the world of dreams and imagination, striving to return towards an expressivity founded on poetry and mystery.
Impressionism The central gallery of the entire exhibition has been devoted to the Impressionist revolution, which played a crucial role in transforming both the operative practices and social equilibrium of the traditional art system. Introduced by the precursory works of Corot, Daubigny and Cézanne, this movement is represented here through masterpieces by Degas, Monet, Renoir and Sisley, and occupies a pivotal role in the history of the Städel Museum's collection. From the 20th century the Städel Museum turned its gaze more and more towards France and managed to secure a number of exceptional pieces on the Parisian market. The Städel thus became one of the first German museums where it was possible to admire Impressionist painting presented as an integral part of Europe's overall art history. An exquisite selection of works from the turn of the 19th and 20th century documents the Post-Impressionist evolution of the Nabis painters Sérusier, Bonnard, Vuillard and Denis, who distanced themselves from the phenomenological observation of nature in favour of a Symbolist aesthetic. The gallery ends with Carmencita by German painter Lovis Corinth. Despite being strongly influenced by French Impressionism, Corinth's work is imbued with Symbolist and Expressionist tones. The Städel Museum's original policy of acquiring works by German artists active abroad, as was the case with Corinth, stands behind the stimulating dialogue between national art and the artistic currents of Europe that is the leitmotif of this exhibition.
Expressionism and Die Brücke (The Bridge) Expressionism is the term used to describe the cultural movement - which extended well beyond painting - that embodied the sense of intolerance and rebellion towards the artistic and social conventions prevalent in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Provocative, eccentric, decidedly non-conformist and deliberately ungraceful, Expressionist art derived its characteristically spiky, hastily traced forms from anti-Classical formal repertoires such as Medieval woodcuts or African sculpture. The movement's fondness for warm colours was instead intended as a way to channel emotions in an intense and immediate manner. In Germany Expressionism developed from two pivotal pre-War art movements, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich and Die Brücke (The Bridge) in Dresden. Die Brücke was founded in 1905 by Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner while they were still students at the architecture faculty. Proud of their lack of formal training in painting or drawing, these artists interpreted this condition in a positive light as a guarantee of their lack of cultural contamination. The group's name alludes to its 'bridging' role between the conventions of tradition and the freedom of modern art with its new expressive potential. The exhibitions organised by Die Brücke also featured works by artists not strictly affiliated to the movement, such as Henri Matisse, who shared with his German colleagues certain elements of artistic research matured in France within the context of Fauve painting.
Max Beckmann Max Beckmann (Leipzig 1884 - New York 1950) attained early fame with his landscape and figure studies influenced by the Modernist techniques of Paul Cézanne, Vincent Van Gogh, Lovis Corinth and Edvard Munch. This early inclination towards such art was quickly swept away by the tragedy of the First World War, which left Beckmann traumatised. His post-War paintings in fact are introverted, tormented and disquieting. In the 1920s Beckmann did manage to regain a new lightness, which critics compared to the emergence in Germany of the magical-realist Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) aesthetic. In 1930 the Städel Museum devoted an entire gallery to Beckmann's work, recognising him as one of the leading exponents of contemporary German art. The Nationalgalerie in Berlin did the same in 1932. Following Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Beckmann's works and those of so many of his contemporaries were branded immoral and degenerate by the Nazi regime. In 1937 the artist decided to leave Germany and remained in exile in Amsterdam until 1947 when he moved to the United States. Having been banned in his home country, Beckmann's art was acclaimed in the United States as the brilliant Modernist expression of a painter of dark subjects and strong colours, capable of capturing the complexity of modern life.
Abstraction Between 1909 and 1912 the simplification of forms introduced by Cubism in France contributed to push the avant-garde art movements of Europe and Russia towards Abstraction, albeit with starkly diverging results. In Cubist art figures and objects appear in their solid, tangible form (as in Picasso's Portrait of Fernande Olivier and Laurens' Woman With Earrings, both on show here), while in Germany, Switzerland and Russia Abstract art enabled transcending and ideal visions. Jawlensky and Klee considered art to be a vehicle towards the spiritual dimension. "My art is simply meditation or prayer through colour" declared Jawlensky, whereas Klee employed colour and abstraction to highlight the mystery of symbols. Together with Kandinsky and Feininger in 1923 these artists formed the Die Blaue Vier (The Blue Four) group and all taught at the Bauhaus school. Another teacher at the Bauhaus was Oskar Schlemmer, who synthesised the human figure into geometric shapes as part of a research project bent on revealing the "unity of nature and spirit". All of the 'Blue Four' suffered persecution under the Nazi regime, which considered their work to be "degenerate art".