European Masters: Städel Museum, 19th–20th Century

Image from Unsplash


On Saturday I went to see the European Masters exhibition at the NGV International on St Kilda Road.

The exhibition brings together a remarkable collection of masterpieces from the Städel Museum in Frankfurt.

With over 100 pieces including works by van Gogh, Matisse, Rousseau, Cezanne, Corot, Monet, Bonnard, Sisley, Courbet, Manet, and the sumptuous After the Luncheon, by Renoir.

My highlight was Edgar Degas’ second work on the musician theme entitled ‘Orchestra Musicians’ featuring a shimmering illustration of his famous ballerinas on stage following a performance.

The collection spans seven centuries from the 1300s and each piece has only been accepted into the collection if it is regarded as being among the finest of its type.

The director of the Städel Museum, Max Hollein, describes the collection as ‘about Western art with a certain German role.’  German paintings and sculptures from the 19th century and early 20th century are displayed alongside French works of the same period to show the development of Western art as it moved towards modernism.

The Städel and the NGV have chosen to concentrate on this 19th and early 20th-century period for the Melbourne Winter Masterpieces show. The exhibition looks at French and German art in the period when Paris was the centre of the avant-garde. It draws on the Städel’s rich holdings from that time, although as Hollein rightly stresses, its collection of French impressionists ‘is not gigantic’. ‘But there are some really special works, such as Degas’ Orchestra Musicians, and Renoir’s After the Luncheon, which are enough to wet any art enthusiasts appetite.

The collection is a legacy of the Städel’s continued practice of buying choice pieces rather than amassing a comprehensive collection of an artist’s work. ‘The Städel doesn’t have extremely deep holdings so that if we loan a masterpiece we can’t bring others by that artist out of storage to replace it,’ Hollein explains. ‘That’s why works from the Städel have never travelled before and probably never will again.

This really is the opportunity of a lifetime,’ he says of European Masters, which was exhibited in Lausanne before coming to Melbourne and will then travel to New Zealand.

It was a surprise that the collection was allowed to travel and director Hollein admits it was not an easy decision. ‘Every other museum in Germany would have liked it [during the Städel’s renovation] and only after much reflection did we make the decision to send it,’ he says. ‘On the one hand, these paintings belong to Frankfurt like nothing else and you expect to see it in Frankfurt. On the other hand, we liked the idea that this is bigger than Frankfurt. And here we have an opportunity to show it to a different public in a different context. When it comes back, it will not move for generations.’

The NGV is truly privileged to host this exhibition until 10 October. So, seize the day before it’s too late!

To visit the exhibition today go to the following link for more information