Decorative arts from Art Nouveau and Deco to Werkbund, Bauhaus and Functionalism

Another floor opens up in the Bröhan Museum with its privately formed collection


There are numerous other museums in Berlin besides the collections in the “Staatlichen Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz” that are administered by the state of Berlin. Of these the Bröhan Museum holds a special position. It was not until 1983 that Karl H. Bröhan’s previously private art collection was exhibited in its own building. From 1976 until that date his collection “Kunst der Jahrhundertwende und der zwanziger Jahre” was housed in a villa in the elegant quarter of Dahlem where it was already open to the public. K.H. Bröhan was inspired to collect by the 1966 exhibition “Werke um 1900” organised by the Berliner Kunstgewerbemuseum. Afterwards he began to buy Art Nouveau and Art Deco furniture, as well as arts and crafts pieces and paintings of the Berlin Secession. As Barbara Mundt, currently the Director of the Kunstgewerbemuseum, pointed out in her speech celebrating the opening of the collection to the public in 1976, “Art Nouveau arts and crafts have become the domain of the private collector more than any other field.” She went on to say: “After long years of neglect it was, of course, museums which initially attempted to rehabilitate it, starting with the Kunstgewerbemuseum in Zurich in 1952. Even in 1960 at the Council of Europe’s major exhibition of Art Nouveau in Paris, “Les Sources du XXème siècle”, almost all of the loans came from museums or the artists families. However, in that year private collecting fever set in.

Prior to 1966 K.H. Bröhan’s interest in collecting was primarily concentrated on eighteenth-century porcelain from the Königliche Porzellanmanufaktur (KPM) Berlin; this collection was also later donated to the state of Berlin and formed the basis of the KPM collection in the Belvedere in the park of Schloss Charlottenburg. Bröhan offered this Art Nouveau/Art Deco collection to the state of Berlin as a “gift” with the proviso that it remain together in one place. And so, in 1982 the pieces — cautiously assessed at a value of DM30 million — were transferred to the state, which placed them on permanent loan in a newly created “Stiftung Bröhan”. This made the foundation, itself financed from the state budget, the official executor of the new museum. Bröhan the collector has functioned ever since as permanent Director of his own museum.

The museum is located opposite Schloss Charlottenburg in an 1893 building designed as an infantry barracks by Friedrich August Stüler (a colleague of the Prussian court architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel). During the eight years of its existence the museum has enlarged, completed and filled the gaps in its collection, incorporating new elements such as Werkbund and industrial design. Until recently it was on two floors containing twenty rooms arranged chronologically and exhibiting arts and crafts in ceramics, porcelain, metal, glass and wood. A third floor was added at the end of last year with nine new rooms for special exhibitions. These were designed by the excellent Berlin architects Winnetou Kaupmann and Ute Weström, as indeed were all the other rooms. The opening exhibition “Metallkunst vom Jugendstil zur Moderne (1839-1939), until 31 March, brings together 1,500 objects of various types from all over the world: dinner services, centre-pieces, terrines, pots, vases, bowls, lamps and other tableware, cutlery, clocks, candelabra, and cigarette cases. The designs are by some of the most illustrious Art Nouveau and Art Deco artists such as Henry van de Velde and Josef Hoffmann (who each have a room devoted to them with period furniture), Peter Behrens, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Albin Müller, and E. Puiforcat. It also includes exhibits of serial pieces manufactured by Christofle and the Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik (WEM). Materials used include silver, copper, brass, tin, iron and, in the case of cutlery, silver and silver plate (“German silver”). The development from Art Nouveau through Werkbund and Bauhaus and on to Functionalism is charted through the displays. In his foreword to the exhibition catalogue K.H. Bröhan writes: “The exhibition displays a collection which has been purposefully assembled over recent years; a few essential loans complete the show which will offer the visitor a great deal of information and aesthetic pleasure and, it is hoped, inspire him or her to reflect on design.”

Melitta Schmidt