On Friday 12 December Queen Máxima of the Netherlands opened the exhibition “Het Geheim van Dresden. Van Rembrandt tot Canaletto” (The Secret of Dresden. From Rembrandt to Canaletto) in the Groninger Museum in Groningen, in the northeast of the Netherlands. I had been looking forward to the opening, also because the museum usually has wonderful exhibitions and this one had a bit of a royal theme, but it was not to be. Shortly after the death of Queen Fabiola of the Belgians it was announced that 12 December would be the date of her funeral. Not that I was going to travel to Brussels, but as I had to work, and the opening of the exhibition was held at the same time as the funeral, I stayed at home sitting behind my laptop in front of the television half of the day. Luckily on Thursday journalists could already have a look, and so I managed to see the exhibition already before Queen Máxima did.
Dresden has been on my “to-go” list for some time already. The capital of the former Kingdom of Saxony seems to be worth a visit, because of its palaces, gardens and art collection. Not that I am really very interested in art, but in connection with royalty I am always happy to have a look. And as said the Groninger Museum always had beautiful art exhibitions in the past, and I must admit has definitely shown me art can be beautiful: Nordic Art 1880-1920 (2013), J.W. Waterhouse (2009), Russian Fairy Tales (2008), Akseli Gallen-Kallela – The Magic of Finland (2007), Russian Landscapes (2004) … The museum was built when I was studying in the city, and although it is very modern and is situated between old houses you slowly get used to it.
But why “The Secret of Dresden”? Many Dutch people don’t seem to have discovered this pearl in the east of Germany, former East Germany, yet and hardly know what a special art collection is present in this old royal capital. Actually between 1697 to 1763 Saxony even was the most important state within the present boarders of Germany. From a simple electorate it became a significant European metropolis when the Electors of Saxony managed to become King of Poland too. The city of Dresden flourished economically and cultural during this time. The royal court in Dresden became the place to be for many artists, and not only did the kings ask artists to come to Dresden, the artists also sent in art themselves in the hope to be invited. August II The Strong and his son August III were big music and art collectors, and especially the latter one loved to collect paintings. Their collection became one of the biggest and notable ones in Europe. The museum closed during World War II, and towards the end of the war the art collection was kept in old mines.
After the war the city was totally bombed by the Germans and Allied troops (remember February 1945), and the galery and other important buildings in Dresden had disappeared as had the art collection. The Soviets had taken them to the Soviet Union, and only returned the collection some ten years later. They were not only on display in Moscow in 1955, but also in Berlin. When the galeries (partly) had been restored, the collection could slowly return to Dresden itself. However with closed borders between the East and the West not too many Western tourists came to see the collections. Only in November 1989 the borders were open again for everybody. Who comes to Dresden nowadays just has to visit the Royal Palace, the Albertinum and the Zwinger. The last one (or actually the Semper Building) houses the “Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister” (Gallery of Paintings Old Masters), which at the moment undergoes an extensive renovation and modernization. A good time also to organise traveling exhibitions. The exhibition that is now on show in Groningen already visited Munich, Germany, and afterwards will go to the Belvédère Museum in Vienna, Austria. The modern setting in Groningen however is unique and gives you a totally different perspective on the paintings shown.
This exhibition is really worth a visit. Don’t miss the beautiful wall and floor decorations, based on decoration that can be found at the Zwinger. Just walk slowly and enjoy all the works of art by big and less big painters like Rembrandt, Velasquez, Titian, Canaletto, Carracci, Wouwerman, Van Ruysdael. I especially loved the big paintings showing what Dresden looked like at the time, including a painting by Bernardo Bellotto of the ruins of the “Kreuzkirche” (Cross Church), dated actually 1765, which lots of small details. There are also portraits (of course also from both Electors), Italian landscapes, paintings with a mythological theme, still lives, some with beautiful flowers. Remembering my experiences at previous exhibitions you better come early as I am certain this exhibition with 18th century paintings will once again become a huge success.
The exhibition is organized by the Groninger Museum in conjunction with the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden from 13 December 2014 to 25 May 2015.