Today’s newspapers have long obituaries of Heinz Berggruen, the famous art collector, who, having escaped from Nazi Germany, returned in his old age and sold the bulk of his collection to the city of Berlin in 1996, despite better offers from other cities and art galleries.
Not that those other cities and art galleries have not benefited from Herr Berggruen’s phenomenal collection and outstanding generosity.
The National Gallery in London was fortunate enough to exhibit what is described in the Daily Telegraph as “the cream of his collection” for four years, 1991 to 1995. It still possesses seven Seurats as an outright gift and five Cézannes and two more Seurats on a long-term loan.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was given some 90 Klees, an astonishing gift even by the generous standards of that establishment’s benefactors.
Two Paris galleries were given works by Giacometti, Cézanne and Klee.
In the end, however, he decided that the largest part should be housed in Berlin, the Berggruen Museum being housed in a neo-classical villa opposite the Charlottenburg Palace. The museum, as the obituary rightly points out, fills a huge gap in the German national art collections, what with the Nazis’ ban on “degenerate” art and the depredations by the Soviet Army after the war.
What caught my interest, apart, of course, from Herr Berggruen’s fascinating biography, was his reaction to the view, put forward by former Israeli President Ezer Weizmann and others that no Jew should return to Germany.
Heinz Berggruen’s view was that Germany had changed or, perhaps, reverted to her previous existence. Fifty years after the collapse of the third Reich
one can no longer turn one’s back on the country of Dürer and Goethe, Beethoven and Brahms, Gottfried Benn and Max Beckmann.Quite so. As we have pointed out before, Germany has now been a democracy for almost sixty years and has, furthermore, had a long history before the horrors of the Nazi regime. It is necessary to acknowledge this in order to defeat that appalling offspring of World War II, the European Union, whose existence feeds on a constant reiteration of exclusively German guilt.