After really enjoying the Alte (Old) Pinakothek on my first day in Munich, on my second day I headed to the Neue (New) Pinakothek, located a short walk away in the Museum Quarter. The original Neue Pinakothek was created by King Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1853 as one of the first museums in the world meant to exhibit contemporary trends and stimulate a public dialogue about new developments in art. The original building was damaged beyond repair in World War II and later demolished, its replacement opening its doors in 1981 with a structure that makes for a pleasant (if exhausting!) meander through its 22 rooms or so.
The present Neue Pinakothek picks up where the Alte Pinakothek left off, roughly in the early 1800s, and (like the Musée d'Orsay in Paris) deals with the period leading up to the arrival of the Modernist avant-gardes in the decades around the year 1900.
The visit starts off with well-known figures from the early 19th century like Francisco de Goya and Jacques-Louis David, as well as German painters like Anton-Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) and Anton Graff (1736-1813). A room devoted to English painting of the period contains works by Gainsborough, Turner and Sir Thomas Lawrence, among others. Another section highlights the work of the Nazarenes (perhaps the answer to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Britain), Romantic painters like Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869), Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862) and Heinrich Maria von Hess (1798-1863) who sought to go back to what they saw as the genuine spirituality of the early Renaissance and adopted a style self-consciously akin to Raphael's. Some of the Nazarenes actually lived a semi-monastic existence in Rome for a time, later on going back to pursuing their own individual styles and interests.
After this, the visit touches on the usual genres in 19th century painting as tackled by German artists, from 'heroic landscapes' (uplifting vistas populated by idealised figures) to portraiture as well as historical, mythological and narrative works. Here, the realistic murals of historic locations in Greece painted between 1838 and 1850 by Carl Rottmann (1797-1850) are a focal point. Romantic landscape painters like Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857) revolutionised the genre with their non-traditional, atmospheric compositions and their focus on Romantic themes like the ruggedness of nature and the inexorable passage of time. A room devoted to French painting of this period included works by Gustave Courbet, Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, Honoré Daumier and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Genre pieces from Ludwig I's personal collection (some very striking) emphasise the conventional official taste of the time.
An interesting highlight at this point in the visit are the oversized historical and mythological paintings which were traditionally seen as an artist's crowning achievement and which today, given their dimensions, are rarely seen outside their home institutions. The Neue Pinakothek doesn't disappoint in the size stakes, my favourite work here probably being Carl Theodor von Piloty's huge (7 by 5 metres) Thusnelda at the Triumph of Germanicus (1873), based on an episode from the Roman wars in Germania and meant to emphasise Teutonic noble demeanour even in captivity.
By the final decades of the 19th century the winds of change were blowing across Europe, and, as clearly documented in the Neue Pinakothek, this thirst for experimentation took many forms. French impressionism was of course very influential, but a new and keen interest in depicting life (human and natural) with increased realism (instead of in a posed and conventional fashion, as was the traditional academic treatment) was also prevalent. The new art was often seen as socially engaged (to the extent of raising alarms in the political establishments of the time) and was often executed in pared down, sober palettes. Many artists experimented with very personal themes and styles, a notable example in the Neue Pinakothek being the dark mythological paintings executed in thick impasto by Hans von Marées (1837-1887). There are also interesting examples here of the work of Max Liebermann (1847-1935), Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), Adolph von Menzel (1815-1905) and the circle of realist painter Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900).
Near the end of the visit to the Neue Pinakothek is the section devoted to French impressionism, not huge but containing impressive pieces like Edgar Degas's 1869 Woman Ironing and his 1895 Henri Rouart and his Son Alexis (Degas is a weakness of mine) as well as Édouard Manet's 1868 Luncheon in the Studio, besides paintings by Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne. Post-impressionist painting is also well represented, including works by, among others, Paul Signac (1863-1935), Maurice Denis (1870-1943) and Henri-Edmond Cross (1856-1910), whereas three beautiful Van Goghs (two landscapes from after his famous confrontation with Gauguin in Arles in 1888, and one of his sunflower paintings) vie for attention with paintings by Gauguin himself and a selection of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. A small Symbolist section includes Fernand Khnopff's touching I close the door upon myself (1891), inspired by a poem by Christina Rossetti, the sister of Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The final segment of the visit deals with the years around and after 1900, with a focus on the art of the avant-gardes. The Viennese Secession is represented by Gustav Klimt's 1905 Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein and Egon Schiele's 1912 Agony. Interestingly, a few late paintings by Lovis Corinth (earlier work by whom is on display earlier on in the visit) attest to his personal evolution in this time of transformation. Sadly, I arrived at this the last room of the visit almost at closing time and so I wasn't able to study the artworks here in as much detail as I would have wanted.
Wear comfortable shoes if you plan to visit this massively substantial museum, and, again, don't forget to ask for the very informative audioguide, included in the ticket price. As in the Alte Pinakothek, the museum cafe is very pleasant (with tables out in the garden in good weather) and perfect for a Kaffee und Kuchen break.