This exhibition, comprising over two hundred works, offers a reflection on the main themes that structured German thinking from 1800 to 1939. It places artworks and their artists—including Caspar David Friedrich, Paul Klee, Philipp Otto Runge and Otto Dix—in the intellectual context of their time, and confronts them with the writings of great thinkers, chief among whom is Goethe.
German history from the late 18th century to the eve of World War II is marked by the difficulty of establishing political unity at a time when the concept of a Europe of nations was gaining hold. A multi-faith country characterized by geographical discontinuity, the instability of its borders and different or even antagonistic political and cultural contexts, Germany needed to establish the underlying unity of all Germans, from Bavaria to the Baltic, from the Rhineland to Prussia.
The concept of Kultur, inherited from Enlightenment thought, seemed most likely to constitute the breeding ground from which a modern German tradition could emerge. The Napoleonic occupation fostered awareness of this unity and provided the political background for the beginnings of Romanticism, at the start of our timeline—while at its end, the rise of Nazism highlighted the tragic dimension of this concept, without managing to destroy it. The exhibition analyzes the role of the fine arts, from Romanticism to New Objectivity, in this period of great artistic innovation that sought to invent a new German tradition.