In November 1945, the “Berlin 202”—two hundred paintings from the Kaiser-Friedrich-Museum and two from the Alte Nationalgalerie—were shipped from the American zone in Germany to Washington, D.C., by military transport.
They included works by some of the most famous old masters, including Botticelli, Jan van Eyck, Titian, Rembrandt, and Rubens. For two years, the works were stored at the National Gallery of Art. In 1948, President Truman’s administration decided it was time to return them to Germany. But first, they were put on public view at the National Gallery of Art. The six-week exhibition drew almost one million visitors.
Following this success, Congress legislated an unprecedented exhibition tour of thirteen U.S. cities. Money raised from the exhibition went to relief agencies working with German children. To the public’s fascination, the paintings traveled in military convoys and were guarded by military police. About a quarter of the paintings returned to Germany from Washington, D.C., followed by another quarter after the Boston exhibition. Across the country, Masterpieces from the Berlin Museums became one of the first “blockbuster” exhibitions, drawing another 1.4 million visitors to regional museums to see the paintings from abroad.
Exhibited in this section are four of the original “202,” on loan from the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Alongside them are works from the Cincinnati Art Museum by artists included in the “202,” offering a sense of the breadth, significance, and impact of the 1948–49 exhibition.