Heinz Berggruen, born in Berlin, Germany in 1914, began his working career as a journalist at the Frankfurter Zeitung. At the same time he indulged his love of the modern art of the period by collecting as many pieces as he could afford.
In 1936, when his editor informed him that because of his Jewish surname he could only sign his bylines with his initials, Berggruen emigrated to the United States taking along what Hitler called “degenerate modern art”.
Berggruen lived and studied art in San Francisco and soon became the art critic of the San Francisco Chronicle. When the United States entered World War II, Berggruen enlisted and fought against his native land.
With the war finally over, Berggruen found himself in Paris where he opened a gallery on rue de l’Universite on the Left Bank that became “the leading address in the international art scene”. He also amassed a superb personal collection indicative of his expertise in modern art and reflecting his close friendships with the top artists of his time.
By 1980 he stopped his gallery work to focus on his own collection of Picassos, Klees, Matisses, Giacomettis, Braques, Seurats, Cezannes, Van Goghs and Miros. He put together an exhibition of his collection to hang in London’s National Gallery for a five year period.
Rather than extend the National Gallery show, Berggruen, in an extraordinary gesture of reconciliation, sold his collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin for a nominal sum, about a tenth of its real value. The Foundation provided a Friedrich August Stuler – built 1850s building, opposite the Charlottenburg Palace, to house and display Berggruen’s treasures.
The Museum opened in 1996 and Berggruen, who had an apartment on the top floor, visited often. He would show visitors around. “Every day I say ‘Good morning’ and ‘good night’ and tell them to ‘sleep well’ ”, he revealed.
So popular is the Berggruen that extensive renovations and the addition of a new building joined to the old were needed to properly accommodate and display the more than 100 Picasso oils, sculptures and works on paper, many dedicated “To my friend, Berggruen”. These form the focus of the collection, beginning with a painting from Picasso’s student days in 1897 to his works from 1972, a year before his death. Paul Klee’s 60 works span the years from 1917 – 1940. Twenty works by Matisse include half a dozen of his paper cuts. Giacometti is represented by his “stick figures”.
The splendor of the Berggruen is its artistic accessibility. It is a rare pleasure to bask in the intimacy of a unique, personal and expert collection of the works of some of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00AM – 6:00PM
Admission: Adults: 8 euros Seniors/Students: 4 euros
Schlosstrasse 1, 14059 Berlin, Germany
Telephone: 030 266 42 42 42 www.smb.museum