From 13 February 2024, the Berlin Gemäldegalerie will be presenting a focused selection of paintings from the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art. The occasion is the second anniversary of the Russian attack on Ukraine. The presentation is the prelude to a major special exhibition that will show paintings from Odessa together with works from the Berlin collections from January 2025. The project is a special presentation of the Gemäldegalerie with the support of the Alte Nationalgalerie – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin in cooperation with the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art, funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.
Image above: Roelant Savery, Paradies, 1618/28, © Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art / Photo: Christoph Schmidt
Shortly after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the most important paintings from the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art were moved to an emergency storage facility, where they were temporarily removed from the war zone. As there are close links with the painting collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, the Odessa Museum, the Gemäldegalerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie initiated a cooperation project with the aim of organising a major special exhibition. Works from Odessa are to be shown together with paintings from the Berlin collections. The co-operation is an expression of the close cultural relations between Germany and the Ukraine.
Founded in 1923 and opened in 1924, the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art is home to a wide-ranging collection of art and cultural history. European paintings, sculptures and applied art from the Renaissance to the 20th century form an important focus. The collection is part of Ukraine’s cultural identity and has many references to Western European collections. However, it is virtually unknown in Western Europe. Until now, the collection has been presented in a 19th-century palace in the centre of Odessa’s old town, which has already suffered extensive destruction as a result of the war.
Claudia Roth, Minister of State for Culture and the Media: “For two years now, Russia has been waging a bloody war of aggression against Ukraine in the centre of Europe. A war that is primarily directed against Ukrainians, but also systematically against Ukrainian culture and identity. This can be seen wherever museums, theatres, concert halls or libraries are deliberately bombed, severely damaged and destroyed. As Minister of State for Culture, it is therefore particularly important to me to support artists, creative people and media professionals from Ukraine, as well as Ukrainian cultural institutions. This is why my organisation was pleased to support and facilitate the exhibition and cooperation project between the National Museums in Berlin and the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art. Thanks to this transnational co-operation, it has been possible to bring the most important paintings from the Odessa Museum to Germany for presentation here. With the exhibition of an initial selection, we want to show the valuable and unique art treasures that Ukraine harbours in its very endangered museum in Odessa. In doing so, we also want to send a clear signal of solidarity with Ukrainian cultural life, which is under daily attack from Russia.”
With the support of the Minister of State for Culture and the Media, 74 major works from the Odessa Museum in Ukraine were brought to Berlin last September. These are works from the 16th to 19th centuries, including works by important artists such as Francesco Granacci, Roelant Savery, Bernardo Strozzi, Cornelis de Heem, Alessandro Magnasco, Andreas Achenbach and Frits Thaulow.
In addition, two extraordinary paintings by Frans Hals, which are currently in Vilnius, will travel to Berlin and be on display in the Gemäldegalerie’s major “Frans Hals” exhibition from 12 July 2024. These highlights from the Odessa Museum are exceptional works by the Dutch artist that have never before been shown in Germany. They are depictions of the evangelists Matthew and Luke, two of the few religious subjects in the oeuvre of the painter famous for his portraits and genre paintings.
Dagmar Hirschfelder, Director of the Gemäldegalerie: “I am very pleased about the fantastic and important cooperation with our partners and colleagues in Odessa. In addition to protecting Ukraine’s cultural heritage, our aim is to inspire a wide audience for the multifaceted collection of Old Masters from Odessa and at the same time send a signal of solidarity with Ukraine. The links between the Ukrainian painting collection and the Berlin collections are close. Many of the painters of the works from Odessa are also represented in the Gemäldegalerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie. Our cooperation project emphasises that the acutely endangered museums in Ukraine and their collections are part of European culture. Of course, the exhibition also sends a signal to the Ukrainian refugees in Germany, whose cultural identity is at stake here.”
Igor Poronyk, Director of the Odessa Museum of Western and Eastern Art: “At the beginning of the war, our museum was on its own, but help quickly arrived from various foreign organisations and museums, especially from Germany. I am grateful for the great support of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie, the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, who organised this project with love and professionalism. Showing our works in Germany is very important for Ukraine, for the strengthening and development of cultural relations between our countries. Our joint work is part of an important project to preserve the cultural heritage of Ukraine.”
Gero Dimter, Vice President of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, says: “Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, which has now been going on for two years, strikes at the heart of every European. Putin wants to eradicate the cultural identity of this country and is deliberately attacking it. This is why the Picture Gallery project with the Museum of Western and Eastern Art in Odessa is so important. We can protect masterpieces of European painting and at the same time show a large audience that this museum with its fantastic collection is alive. Thanks to Minister of State Claudia Roth, who has made this project her cause from the very beginning. Since the outbreak of the war, the SPK has been involved in many areas for cultural institutions in Ukraine and the visibility of Ukrainian culture in this country. And it is important to us to show solidarity in the long term. We help people to help themselves in order to preserve what is under attack, support Ukrainian researchers and artists with scholarships and organise events and series of events in Berlin such as Making Spaces with Ukrainian artists or events for Ukrainian children and young people.”
From January 2025, the works from Odessa will enter into an exciting and surprising dialogue with the Berlin paintings. This will enable a deeper understanding of the works, the context in which they were created and the profile of the collection. As most of the paintings arrived in Berlin unframed, they are currently being given new, standardised frames and conservators are preparing them for the special exhibition.
In order to make the project known to the general public now, the Picture Gallery is showing a special presentation of twelve works from the most important areas of the Odessa Museum’s painting collection from 13 February to 28 April 2024. These focus on Italian and Dutch painting from the 16th and 17th centuries as well as 19th century painting. Works have been selected that belong to different genres, such as portrait, still life, landscape or history painting. The paintings outline the breadth of the collection and emphasise its European character.
The special presentation also uses the exhibited artists to demonstrate the overlap with the Berlin collections, as many painters are also represented in the holdings of the Gemäldegalerie and the Alte Nationalgalerie: Cornelis de Heem, for example, known as a painter of magnificent still lifes, or the important Genoese early Baroque painter Bernardo Strozzi and Gabriel von Max, who was celebrated in the second half of the 19th century.
One of the highlights of the Odessa collection is Francesco Granacci’s “Enthroned Madonna with Child and St John the Baptist”. Granacci drew on the formal language of Michelangelo, with whom he had been friends for many years. Bernardo Strozzi’s “Ecce Homo” depiction takes up a composition by Caravaggio and impresses with the drastic nature of the scene with the brightly lit figure of Christ, who is mocked by a grotesquely exaggerated tormentor. The Dutch painter Roelant Savery created a delicately painted paradise landscape populated by numerous animals. As an excellent animal and landscape painter, the artist, who was appointed court painter to Emperor Rudolf II, was particularly successful with such subjects.
The selection of paintings is complemented by works by artists whose works are not included in the Berlin collections. This applies to the French painter Jules-Alexis Muenier, whose large-format “Dispute of the Coachmen” is characterised by its tense composition and the contrast between brutal murder and the pastel-coloured landscape.
“Kick-off: From Odessa to Berlin. European Painting from the 16th to 19th Century” is curated by Sabine Lata, research assistant at the Gemäldegalerie, and conserved by the conservators Anja Lindner-Michael and Thuja Seidel.
Tuesday, 13. February – Sunday, 28. April 2024
Tue – Sun 10 am – 6 pm