1929 to 1945

When the consul Joachim Heinrich Wilhelm Wagener bequeathed his collection to the King of Prussia in 1859 as the basis for a national gallery, this was also a building block for the birth of the German nation state. The monumental temple of the National Gallery, inaugurated in 1876, was a further step towards the development of a German national culture in the German Empire, which had been founded five years earlier.

Director Hugo von Tschudi, who was appointed in 1896, already had the dream of setting up a support association for the National Gallery. But it was his successor, Ludwig Justi, who was appointed in 1909, who set about realizing this project in June 1929, supported by CEO Eduard Freiherr von der Heydt.

When it was founded, the Association of Friends of the National Gallery had 70 members.

Old National Gallery and Friedrichsbrücke, 1905 | © bpk Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage

Old National Gallery and Friedrichsbrücke, 1905 | © bpk Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage

Director Hugo von Tschudi (1896-1909), appointed in 1896, already had the dream of establishing a permanent support association for the National Gallery. His groundbreaking acquisitions of French Impressionism were only possible thanks to generous, private sponsors and friends: Manet, Cézanne, Degas, Courbet, Monet, Rodin - all of them the first acquisitions of a museum worldwide and still the pride and wealth of the National Gallery on Museum Island today. But it was his successor, Ludwig Justi (1909-1933), who was appointed in 1909, who realized the project of a circle of friends in June 1929, supported by the banker Eduard Freiherr von der Heydt. Even in its founding phase, the “Friends of the National Gallery” association, chaired by von der Heydt, had 70 members, around half of whom were Jewish.

While Ludwig Justi was able to pursue a predominantly “German line” in his acquisitions using the state budget, he also acquired international art by Braque, Gris, Munch and Picasso with the help of the association and its private funds. These works remained the property of the association and were loaned to the Nationalgalerie.

Art exhibition in the Kronprinzenpalais, around 1930 | © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024

Old National Gallery and Friedrichsbrücke, 1905 | © bpk Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage

After the advent of the Third Reich and Ludwig Justi's removal from office, there were no spectacular acquisitions. The number of members also fell dramatically due to the displacement of Jewish fellow citizens from economic and cultural life by the Nazi regime. Since the “Degenerate Art” campaign in 1937, the association has been forced to sell its European modernist paintings for a fraction of their value. During the Second World War the number of members of the association was reduced to 15. After the end of the war he stopped his activities.

1977 to today

In Berlin, as a divided city, the post-war period extended until 1989. West Berlin was seen as a place of loss par excellence: no longer the capital, no longer an industrial metropolis, with no surrounding area. Divided Berlin was a double place of loss: completely disturbed in its Prussian traditions, without an educated middle class, and also because it had lost its Jewish citizens.

In contrast, only the arts and academic institutions had an effect on both sides. In both the West and the East, it was the orchestras, theaters and museums, the libraries and universities that gave this twin city a new, old attractiveness and a new life.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's “temple” of the Neue Nationalgalerie, inaugurated in 1968, the year of the student revolution, was the first clear signal of a regained international reputation through the modern arts. At least in one half of the city.

Werner Haftmann, the first director with a broad intellectual background, remained an aristocratic loner in Berlin. In contrast, Dieter Honisch was more radical and more pragmatic at the same time as the second director of the Temple of Modernity from 1975 onwards. Acting completely unexpectedly and unflinchingly, he was a masterful strategist of “overwhelming well-intentioned people through art”.

Old National Gallery and Friedrichsbrücke, 1905 | © bpk Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage

It was only the Honisch-Raue duo that succeeded in making art in Berlin a public matter again. Precisely through the Association of Friends of the National Gallery, which was re-founded by Dieter Honisch and chaired by Peter Raue until 2008. At the latest with the reopening of the Alte Nationalgalerie on Museum Island in 2001, the association's purpose, the promotion of the Nationalgalerie, became apparent again for the first time as a task that went beyond the revitalization of West Berlin and was binding on the entire cultural nation.

Opening "Immendorff - Male Lago", 2005

Old National Gallery and Friedrichsbrücke, 1905 | © bpk Image Archive Prussian Cultural Heritage

The success story of FREUNDE is closely linked to the personality of its first, long-standing and already mentioned chairman Peter Raue (born 1941, in office from 1977-2008). The development into one of the most important museum associations in Germany is thanks to his passion for art and for the institution, his desire to create and his charisma.

According to the statutes, the activities of the Friends of the National Gallery are determined by three pillars: the acquisition of works of art of exceptional quality, the financing and realization of special exhibitions by outstanding artists and important art-historical topics, and the promotion of scientific work.

The current value of the works of art acquired has long been in the high double-digit million range. The scale of acquisitions ranges from Adolph Menzel and Max Liebermann to the Dadaist assemblages of Hans Arp, Hannah Höch and Kurt Schwitters to the reacquisition of so-called “degenerate art” with Emil Nolde's “Christ and the Sinner” or the “Pink Roses” by Lovis Corinth as well as the purchase of contemporary works by, for example, Jenny Holzer, Christoph Schlingensief, Thomas Demand, Katharina Grosse, Barbara Kruger and Pauline Curnier Jardin. The absolute highlight of the friends' lives was their daring courage in 1982 - the young club had just 120 members at the time - to purchase Barnett Newman's "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV", a major work of American color field painting, for 1.2 million U.S. dollar. Why? First, people bought so as not to miss the momentum - and only then did they collect money for it.

In 1984, at the suggestion of their chairman Peter Raue, the friends decided, in addition to purchasing works of art, to finance an exhibition for the first time : Edgar Degas. Pastels, oil sketches, drawings” in the Neue Nationalgalerie.

Under the aegis of Peter-Klaus Schuster, third director of the Nationalgalerie and at the same time general director of the National Museums in Berlin, the Nationalgalerie hosts a long list of top-class special exhibitions - including monographic exhibitions from Goya, Gauguin and Picasso to Immendorff, as well as large themed exhibitions such as “Cloud Pictures – The Discovery of Heaven” or “Melancholy Genius and Madness in Art” – attracted numerous visitors from home and abroad. Many of these projects were made possible solely through the financial and organizational support of FRIENDS. The groundbreaking exhibition successes of “The MoMA in Berlin” in 2004 and “The Most Beautiful Frenchmen Come from New York” in 2007 not only inspired a total of almost two million visitors - in many cases for the first time - about the emergence and highlights of classical modernism, but also set a new benchmark in terms of contemporary exhibition organization.

The “National Gallery Prize” has been added since 2000 – donated by the FRIENDS. Every two years an outstanding contemporary position is honored. As FRIENDS, by offering this prize, we responded not least to the fact that a new, young art and culture scene began to develop in Berlin at the beginning of the last decade. Young artists from all over the world came (and continue to come) to Berlin because the city's creative atmosphere inspires them. The format of this prize was intended to give contemporary art in particular a special stage and thus greater visibility.

As if that wasn't enough, the FRIENDS founded two subsidiaries along the way: in 1996, the "Hamburger Bahnhof Veranstaltungsgesellschaft mbH", which has since expanded its field of activity to 17 houses and has since operated as the "Museum&Location Veranstaltungsgesellschaft der Staatliche Kulturen zu Berlin mbH". Museum&Location makes it possible to use the rooms of the state museums for events and guided tours outside of regular opening hours and to generate additional project budgets through these usage fees. In 2005, “Museum&Service” was added, as the operating company of the Berlin State Museums, which provides services relating to exhibition organization, such as visitor management, museum shop concepts, live speaker projects and tour services.

With the profits from the MoMA exhibition, the FRIENDS founded the “Friends of the National Gallery Foundation for Contemporary Art” in 2005, which was endowed with six million euros. Every year it provides the Nationalgalerie with a budget to purchase contemporary art. It was the first foundation in Germany whose sole purpose was to acquire contemporary art for a state museum.

"Beyond this extraordinary support activity for the National Gallery, beyond the economic orientation for the State Museums, one of the Friends' most exemplary achievements is their social impact - far beyond the National Gallery."

Peter Klaus Schuster

For Udo Kittelmann, as the fourth director of the Nationalgalerie (2008-2020), the focus was on connecting the six houses into a synergistic whole that spanned three centuries. Exhibition projects such as “Art is great!” at the Hamburger Bahnhof (2009), “Louise Bourgeois / Hans Bellmer: Double sexus” in the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection (2010), “Thomas Demand. Nationalgalerie” in the Neue Nationalgalerie (2009), “Hilma Af Klingt” (2013) and “Wall Works” (2013-14), both in the Hamburger Bahnhof, showed how the brilliant holdings of the Nationalgalerie's collection combine art history with the Today, people can connect and how thinking more closely together can open up completely new areas of association without much effort. Projects with an experimental attitude such as “SOMA” by Carsten Höller (2010), “Cloud Cities” by Tomás Saraceno (2011) or the “Sky Art Event” by Otto Piene (2014) would not be possible without the organizational support and entrepreneurial flexibility of FREUNDE would have been conceivable.

From 2008 to 2014, Christina Weiss took over the chairmanship of FREUNDE and worked successfully with Udo Kittelmann, who was appointed director of the Nationalgalerie at the same time. She greatly promoted the opening up to other art disciplines, for example through numerous literary supporting programs for the exhibitions, and opened up a broader view of the visual arts.

From 2014 and until 2023, Gabriele Quandt - previously a long-standing member of the board of trustees - was the third chairwoman of the FREUNDEN. Her central concern was to rejuvenate the association, which she related to both the FREUNDE committees and the special, personal support of the young FRIENDS. With her warm, member-oriented manner, Gabriele Quandt led the club safely through the challenging years of the pandemic and thus strengthened the positive feeling of togetherness. The reopening of the Neue Nationalgalerie in August 2021 after almost seven years of renovation despite pandemic conditions was a special moment of joy in the lives of FRIENDS - also with many new friends, supporters and partners.

In 2022, the National Gallery received a new organizational structure as part of the reform of the State Museums in Berlin / Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. The management of the Nationalgalerie was divided into three directorates: Alte Nationalgalerie and Friedrichswerdersche Kirche are led by Dr. Ralph Gleis, New National Gallery with Museum Berggruen and the Scharf-Gerstenberg Collection by Klaus Biesenbach as well as the Hamburger Bahnhof as a contemporary national gallery by Till Fellrath and Sam Bardaouil.

Since spring 2023, Christian Kohorst has been the fourth chairman of FREUNDE and is continuing the successful work of Gabriele Quandt with further rejuvenated committees in the spirit of FREUNDE: With his great love for art as well as the desire for risk and the entrepreneurial response to the challenges of today's National Gallery.

The association currently has around 1,500 members and corporate members, who provide an art budget of over one million euros through their membership fees alone. Significant acquisitions for the National Gallery collection, over 150 large and small exhibitions at all institutions, the National Gallery Prize supported by the Friends, the subsidiaries and the foundation for the acquisition of contemporary art - all supported by members, patrons and committed board and trustee members. For over 40 years, the passion for art has guided FRREUNDE's activities - and it can stay that way in the future.