Fine Arts Collection
Our Fine Arts Collection documents and investigates Jewish history from the perspective of visual culture. The holdings currently comprise approximately 470 paintings, 5,300 art prints, 2,000 drawings, and roughly 240 sculptures and architectural models.
Focus Areas and Subject Matter
One of the collection's focuses is Modernism, with works by artists such as Max Liebermann, Lesser Ury, and Ludwig Meidner. In this emphasis, we are carrying on the tradition of the first Jewish Museum in Berlin, which was forced to close in 1938. Another area of interest is contemporary art, as reflected in our museum’s own architecture. In our permanent exhibition, you will also find installations by Menashe Kadishman, Via Lewandowski, and Arnold Dreyblatt.
Graphic prints make up another extensive and important part of our art collection. This category also includes posters and commercial art and is closely associated with the works of book art in the library’s holdings. Working together with our archive and photographic collection, we also collect biographical and documentary material about artists, such as photographs, correspondence, and printed matter.
Biblical themes and Jewish motifs are well represented subjects, but we are also interested in other pictorial subjects, particularly aesthetic responses to experiences of persecution and emigration. As in any collection of cultural history, portraits also play an important role in the Jewish Museum Berlin collection. Many of them come from collections of family keepsakes that were donated to our museum alongside documents, photographs, and other objects. In addition, the portraits of philosophers of the Jewish Enlightenment in the eighteenth century are especially noteworthy.
The paintings in our holdings are listed in the fourth and subsequent editions of: Schweers, Hans F. Gemälde in deutschen Museen: Katalog der ausgestellten und depotgelagerten Werke (Paintings in German museums: catalog of exhibited works and depository holdings). 4th rev. and exp. ed. Munich: Saur, 2005.
What Artworks Tell Us about Jewish History
A cultural history museum’s interest in art is always also motivated by its themes. As we consider each artwork, we pose the same questions that our museum generally asks: questions of tradition and remembrance, of the Jewish present and visions for the future.
In the works of Jewish artists and the expectations of the Jews who commissioned them, the imagery of Jewish tradition is blended with imagery of their own era. The artworks show how Jews participate in the cultural life of their time. They shape and interpret their environment, position themselves in German society, and reflect on their attitudes to Judaism. Another significant role of Jews in the art world is as commissioners of works such as portraits. For us today, their aesthetic preferences are an important testimony to their cultural identity.
The same is true of contemporary artists. By documenting current developments in the fine arts, we reflect the fact that a museum can only consider history from its position in the present.
At times the paths by which works of art reached us tell little stories of their own about the history of German-Jewish relations. Take the example of Elisabeth Wolff's sculpture Girl Walking, which we present in greater detail on our website , further investigating its provenance. See for yourself how much the other objects from our collection, profiled here on the website, reveal about their time and the people who created them.