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Between pain and bliss

The Gemäldegalerie is dedicating the special exhibition "Hugo van der Goes. Between pain and bliss" to the most important Dutch artist of the second half of the 15th century from March 31 to July 16, 2023. 540 years after the artist’s death, for the first time, almost all of the
artist’s surviving paintings and drawings will be presented in one

The works of Hugo van der Goes impress with their monumentality and intense colours as well as with their astonishing closeness to life and emotional expressivity.

Hugo van der Goes (c. 1440-1482) belonged to the second generation of Old Netherlandish masters who followed the pioneers Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. He was active in Ghent and Brussels, and his works were highly admired by his contemporaries and copied many times until the 17th century. In 1520 Albrecht Dürer still called him, like very few other artists, a "great master".

Monumental panel paintings

While in recent decades almost all important Dutch painters of the 15th and 16th centuries have been the subject of monographic exhibitions, Hugo van der Goes has remained exempt. This is probably due to both the rarity of his works and their often large format.

In the Gemäldegalerie there are two of these large-format works by Hugo van der Goes, which is why the collection lends itself like no other to a monographic exhibition.

The two monumental Berlin panel paintings, the Monforte Altarpiece (c. 1470) and the Nativity (c. 1480), will be the focus of the presentation. After extensive restoration over the past twelve years, both works are now presented in a previously unimagined freshness.

Van der Goes’ late masterpiece, the Death of the Virgin from the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, which has never left Flanders before, has also been extensively  restored recently and will form a highlight of the Berlin show.

Numerous important loans from European and American collections will be grouped around these two works.

This is the first opportunity to compare the majority of the master's surviving works. In addition to paintings on wood and on canvas, a number of drawings will round out the picture of the artist's oeuvre.

Lost works

In addition, Hugo van der Goes' own panel paintings will be supplemented by various paintings that reproduce once famous compositions by the master, but lost in the original. This concerns, for example, the lost wings of the Monforte Altarpiece in Berlin or the often repeated depictions of an Adoration of the Magi and a Lamentation of Christ, of which more than 100 copies have been preserved.

Hugo's Succession

A final section of the exhibition is devoted to the painter's immediate successor. It presents a number of outstanding works by other artists that are clearly influenced by Hugo van der Goes' style.

Hugo van der Goes was one of the most important European artists of the early modern period. The exhibition will bring together many of his works for the first time, making it an impressive visual experience. A

t the same time, various aspects of the artist and his work, the social and intellectual framework, and also the technical conditions of the paintings will be conveyed in a concise and comprehensible manner.

Hugo van der Goes’ biography fascinates today to the same degree as his  paintings.
The artist, who worked as an independent master in Ghent from  1467 onwards, abandoned his successful worldly career in the mid-1470s  for unknown reasons and entered a monastery near Brussels as a lay  brother. It was there that most of his preserved works were created. After  a few years in the monastery, however, Hugo was suddenly struck by a  mysterious mental illness, which a fellow brother later reported: the painter believed himself to be damned and tried to take his own life. In the late  19th century, van der Goes was therefore regarded as the prototype of  the “mad genius”, with whom even Vincent van Gogh identified.

  • Hugo van der Goes. Between Pain and Bliss is curated by Stephan Kemperdick, curator of Early Netherlandish and Early German Painting at the Gemäldegalerie, and Erik Eising, assistant curator at the Gemäldegalerie.
  • The exhibition is sponsored by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.

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Additional information
Opening hours:
Tue - Fri 10 am - 6 pm, Thu 10 am - 8 pm, Sat + Sun 10 am - 6 pm