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 up to the arrival of the Modernist avant-gardes in the decades around 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 features most of the usual suspects, from Gainsborough to Turner and Sir Thomas Lawrence. A fascinating current in those years in Germany (perhaps the answer to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in Britain) were the so-called Nazarenes, Romantic painters like Johann Friedrich Overbeck (1789-1869), Wilhelm von Schadow (1789-1862) or 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, even though, like the Pre-Raphaelites, they later went on to develop their own individual styles and interests.
After this, the visit traces a course through the usual genres in 19th century painting as tackled by German artists, from 'heroic landscapes' (uplifting, idealised vistas populated by equally idealised figures) to portrait painting 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, having been commissioned by Ludwig I on the occasion of the ascent of his son Otto to the Greek throne in 1832, and assigned their own room in the original Neue Pinakothek around 1846 (some of these paintings were destroyed in WWII, or damaged and later restored). The arrival of Romantic landscape painters like Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) and Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857), with their non-traditional, atmospheric compositions and their focus on Romantic themes like the ruggedness of nature and the inexorable passage of time is documented here. A room is devoted to French painting of this period by the likes of Gustave Courbet, Théodore Géricault, Eugène Delacroix, Honoré Daumier and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and another to genre pieces from Ludwig I's personal collection, some very striking, if very much in the conventional taste of the time.
An interesting highlight of the visit are the oversized historical and mythological paintings seen by the traditional academic outlook as an artist's crowning achievement and which today, given their dimensions, rarely travel outside their home institutions. The Neue Pinakothek doesn't disappoint in the size stakes, my favourite work in this vein 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, not just because of the influence of French impressionism, but also in the form of 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. The new art was often perceived to be socially engaged (to the extent of raising alarms in the political establishments of the time) and was often executed in pared down, sober colour palettes. Another example of the spirit of experimentation spreading throughout Europe is the very personal style developed by Hans von Marées (1837-1887) for his mythological paintings. In addition, there are beautiful 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, which is not huge but includes impressive pieces like Edgar Degas's 1869 Woman Ironing and his 1895 Henri Rouart and his Son Alexis (Degas is a particular 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 nice selection of Auguste Rodin's sculptures. A few Symbolist pieces include 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 (whose earlier work is featured in previous rooms) attest to his personal evolution in this time of transformation. Sadly, I arrived at this the last room of the visit when it was almost closing time, so I couldn't look at 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 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 (it was lovely to sit outside and enjoy the April Sun) and perfect for a Kaffee und Kuchen break.