The acquisition of the painting collection of the English merchant Edward Solly in 1821 gave Berlin a world-class public art collection. With masterpieces by Raphael, Hans Holbein the Younger and Rembrandt, the “Solly Collection” still forms the basis of the Berlin Gemäldegalerie. On the occasion of the 200th anniversary, the special exhibition spanning the entire building pays tribute to this courageous coup, unique in Europe, and presents the works and protagonists of this invaluable stroke of luck for the Berlin museums.
In the early 19th century, an unprecedented collection of paintings was created in Berlin, which was to become the basis of the gallery in the Royal Museum (today’s Altes Museum), which opened in 1830. Edward Solly (1776-1844), who came from England and worked in the Baltic region, had earned a lot of money from the trade in grain and wood – and invested it in paintings of all kinds. In the years 1813 to 1821 alone, he brought together more than 3000 paintings in his house in Berlin’s Wilhelmstraße, mainly from Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.
“Imagine an accumulation of about 8-9 thousand pictures, of which at most 400 say four hundred are set up”, August von Goethe wrote in May 1819 to his famous father in Weimar from Berlin about the “Solly Collection”, “piled up on top of each other in 30-40 rooms in kitchens, coach houses and so on (…) that the ceilings would like to break, and you will then confess that one can become completely confused”. …
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Image caption: Hans Holbein d. J., Der Kaufmann Georg Gisze, 1532, © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie / Jörg P. Anders.