The Rau collection is one of the most important private art collections in Europe. Almost unknown until recently, it is now being presented in public for the first time at this exhibition. The entire collection, from Switzerland, comprises around 240 paintings of old masters, 160 from the 19th and 20th century, plus 220 sculptures, pieces of furniture and other art and craft objects.
After the exhibition in Paris and Cologne, this priceless collection is now to be seen in its noticeably enlarged form in Haus der Kunst. A selection of 100 paintings demonstrates in an exemplary manner the development of European painting from the early Renaissance up to modern art.
There is a broad spectrum of styles and themes, ranging from historic scenes and portraits to landscapes and still-life works. Thus the collection reflects both the collector’s desire for universality and his personal preferences.
For many years, only a few people knew of the existence of the Rau collection, even though in the last few years important loans were often to be seen at international exhibitions. The collector himself, Gustav Rau, a medical, who had accumulated the works in over 30 years and, furthermore, made a name for himself through his extraordinary humanitarian engagement in Africa, always remained in the background.
In the Haus der Kunst, the exhibition calls to memory another similar legendary private collection: the spectacular Barnes Collection, belonging to Albert Barnes, also a doctor, was shown here in 1995. That collection too first became internationally famous through a series of exhibitions. Following its appearance here, the Rau collection will be housed as a permanent loan in the Musée du Luxembourg in Paris.
The oldest pictures of the collection include two outstanding representations by Fra Angelico from around 1425, plus a pietà by Vittore Crivelli whose peaceful, emotional effect still touches us today. A large triptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder portrays an unusual relationship between bread, wine and the Word of God, thereby displaying the influence of humanism on religious painting around 1500. Another work by this artist, a small tondo with a representation of Judith, points to the spirit of the Renaissance.
With its provocative combination of eroticism and tyrannicide, the picture appears to justify the opposition of the Lutheran princes to the Emperor and the anti-puritan customs of the nobility. Among the paintings of the 17th century, El Greco’s St. Dominic at Prayer deserves special mention. The coldness of the painting’s colors emphasizes its spiritual content and allows us to feel both the visionary power of imagination of this unique painter and the spiritual atmosphere of the Counterreformation in Spain.
Another impressive picture, by Guido Reni, shows the moment at which David raises his sword to behead his mighty opponent Goliath. In this painting, we see both the harmonious composition principles of Raphael and the dramatic light/dark of Caravaggio. The work stands at the center of a group of other important figure paintings of the Baroque, including those by Hendrick ter Brugghen and Philippe de Champaigne.
The 18th century is represented prominently by Canaletto, François Boucher and Thomas Gainsborough. Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s dynamic Portrait of the Duc d’Harcourt of 1769 is a particular surprise here, seeming to anticipate modern art, with its free, direct brushstrokes together with a strong abstractionist will.
Among the numerous works of French Realism, Impressionism and Post-impressionism, one that stands out is the delicate portrait of the Woman with Rose by Auguste Renoir, considered as one of the earliest Impressionist portraits. Another high point of the collection is the Sea near L'Estaque (1876) by Paul Cézanne. But the significance of the exhibition is also greatly enhanced by Gustave Courbet, Camille Corot and Claude Monet – the latter alone is represented by six works – complemented by Max Liebermann’s serene Orphanage in Amsterdam (1876) and drawings by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Pierre Bonnard’s Open Window in Uriage, of ca. 1918, should be mentioned here, representing the large number of works of Symbolism (Odilon Redon, Ferdinand Hodler, Gustav Klimt), the Nabis (Felix Vallotton, Edouard Vuillard, Maurice Denis) and the Expressionists (Edvard Munch, Alexej von Jawlensky, August Macke), which yet again all clearly underline the bandwidth of the Rau collection. At the end of the exhibition is one of the most recent works in the collection, the simple Still Life with Bottle and Glasses by Giorgio Morandi, painted just after the Second World War.
Also shown are works from Taddeo di Bartolo, Tom Ring, Bernardo Strozzi, Sebastian Stoßkopf, Aert van der Neer, Pierre-Paul Prud’hon, Lovis Corinth and Koloman Moser, which are not in the catalogue.
Das Meer bei L´Estaque