Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Dresden exhibit was a bid for "peaceful co-existence between nations with different social systems," and the decision to lend it, said the East German minister of culture, had not been easy.
After all, said Hans Joachim Hofmann. "The Splendor of Dresden: Five Centuries of Art Collecting" included some of "the most beautiful and venerated of our art collections.
"Despite that," Hofmann Wednesday night told a black-tie crowd of 300 Washington politicos, museum officials, and business and arts leaders at the second in a series of dinners celebrating the opening of the new East Building of the National Gallery of Art, "we decided to take the risk.
"We view the exhibition as a way to promote understanding between our two peoples."
If the exhibit itself took five centuries to collect, it took considerably less to bring it to Washington although at times it may have seemed as long.
John Sherman Cooper, who was the first U.S. envoy to the German Democratic Republic when relations were established four years ago, said both J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery's director, and David Rockefeller, representing the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arrived in East Berlin to lay the groundword.
"I don't think they (GDR) thought of it as an artistic venture but rather as one of trade and investing," said Coope. "There knew Rockefeller was a banker and they received him as if he were the leader of another country."
It was Brown's perseverance, according to Cooper, that landed the Dresden treasures in Washington rather than New York (although they will visit there and in San Francisco before returning home.)
"He came again and again and again," said Cooper. "I think he impressed it on the GDR that it would be the greatest value to them to have it open in the capital of the United States."
So, it seemed, did Washingtonians in the crowd who make no pretense of indifference either to art or architecture. I. M. Pei, who designed the building, was so relentlessly congratulated that he was nearly the last to heed the call of trumpets summoning everyone to dinner.
"You're the celebrity of the hour," Bennetta Washington told Pei.
There was a big smile on Brown's face as he stood in the lobby of the East Building and watched the crowd pour down the stairs to preview the Dresden exhibit.
"It's a good opening," he said. "You can tell the quality of an opening by watching how many of the people go to look at the exhibits and how many sit around boozing."
The booze (actually champagne) was good, but after dining in the new building's atrium most of the guests postponed enjoying it to go down first and look at the Rembrandts, the splendid porcelain, the solitary, perfect Vermeer, the ornate baroque swords and helmets, Durer's woodcut of a rhinoceros, the chaste marble sculptures - more than 700 works of art sent to this country by East Germany and a truly festive exhibit to mark the opening of a great new museum building.
"When I heard this exhibit was insured for $90 million I was really impressed," said Jerry Ottmar, a businessman engaged in developing trade between the United States and East Germany. "You know the King Tut exhibit was only insured for $22 million."
The building housing the collection cost $94.4 million.
Mrs. Livingston Biddle, who thought the museum's lobby was "like the entrance of a modern cathedral" said that the building and its first major exhibit were "a remarkable bargain."
"Think of all the people who are saving the cost of a trip to Dresden," she remarked. She conjectured that the exhibit might be "better mounted in Washington than it is in Dresden."
She was right, according to Hofmann, who said that the exhibition was "not just done well, it is presented in a way even superior to us.
"Some parts of the exhibit duplicate the surroundings in Dresden," he said. "This testifies to a very high level of museology."
The visitors' reaction to the exhibit was uniformly enthusiastic, but ranged from witty comments in some sections to hushed awe in others. One spectator, who identified himself as "a well-known Washington Sculptor," stood admiringly in front of an exhibit showing a knight in armed mounted on a horse and said, "I think everybody should have one, it's the only way you can ride a horse in Washington traffic."
Mrs. John Nicholas Brown, mother of the museum's director, contemplating the dinner and the exhibition, said that her son "never ceases to amaze me." An authority on the history of military costume and equipment, she went through the extensive military part of the exhibition with Joachim Menzhausen, a Dresden scholar who, she said "really knows about these things," admiring ornate old swords, a baroque helmet in the form of an eagle and another in the form of a metal tuban.
"In those days," she said, "military action was an art and military equipment was a work of art. They didn't have khaki battle dress and they didn't dig trenches; they did things with style."
Aslo done with style was the musical program for the evening, which was played by the National Gallery Orchestra and mostly conducted by Richard Bales. An unexpected guest conductor stepped in briefly, however. H. C. Robbins Landon, on of the world's leading musicologists, stepped in to conduct two movements of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik."