The History of the Hamburger Kunsthalle

The early years
The Kunsthalle owes its existence to an initiative by the Kunstverein in Hamburg (Hamburg Art Union), which was founded in 1817 and opened the first "public municipal painting gallery" in the Börsenarkaden in 1850. The collection grew rapidly due to the contribution of gifted works, and it soon became necessary to provide a building in which to house it. In August 1869, financed largely through donations, the Hamburg Kunsthalle was opened.

The basis of the permanent collection, 1886-1914
In 1886 the first Director was appointed - Alfred Lichtwark, who brought worldwide fame to the museum. Through the rediscovery and acquisition of works by the great Hamburg painters of the Middle Ages (Master Bertram and Master Franke) and the Romantic Period (Philipp Otto Runge and Caspar David Friedrich), he initiated a rapid and successful expansion of recent masters up to the present day (Menzel, Leibl, Thoma, Liebermann und Corinth), also extending over the German border to include works by Courbet, Manet, Renoir, Bonnard, and Vuillard.

Rapid expansion and the advent of modern art, 1914-1933
Lichtwark's successor, Gustav Pauli, who was Director of the Kunsthalle from 1914 onwards, oversaw the extension of the museum into the so-called "new building", a move which had become unavoidable for reasons of space. The new building was opened in 1919 after the end of the First World War, and featured large exhibition rooms with light from above, flanked by cabinets lit from the side.
Pauli used the move into the new building as an opportunity to reorganize the collection. He established a more distinct arrangement of the stock, making it possible to gain insight into the historical developement of painting. The new art movement (Franz Marc, Kokoschka, Nolde and Picasso), which Lichtwark had no longer been able to follow, moved into the Kunsthalle with Pauli. His most stunning aquisition, however, was without a doubt Manet's "Nana", which is to this day one of the highlights of the collection.

Severe losses, 1933-1945
Following Pauli's departure in 1933, the provisional Director Harald Busch was able to defend the modern section for a time against attacks by National Socialist cultural politicians. However in 1937, under Director Werner Kloos, the destructive wave which aimed to confiscate "degenerate art" finally struck the Kunsthalle and destroyed the modern department. 74 paintings and arround 1,200 drawings and graphic works were lost.

Carl Georg Heise, who before 1933 had been Director of Museums in Lübeck, reestablished the reputation of the Hamburg Kunsthalle in the very difficult period after 1945. Most importantly, he completely rebuilt the collection of modern art, making it one of the best in Germany.

Extensions, 1955-1969
Alfred Hentzen, who succeeded Heise in 1955, was able to follow a path clearly defined by his predecessors. With funds now more readily available, it was possible to acquire works of art from the 19th century (Renoir, Gauguin) and, above all, modern painting and sculpture.

New inspiration, 1969-1990
As Director of the Kunsthalle from 1969 to 1990, Werner Hofmann gave the Museum fresh impetus. With the continued expansion of the collection, the Hamburg Kunsthalle was able to achieve an important position within the international museums landscape, above all as a result of exhibition such as the cycle "Art around 1800" (with works by C. D. Friedrich, Runge, Goya amongst others) which attracted worldwide attention.

Restructuring, since 1991
At the beginning of 1991 Uwe M. Schneede was appointed Director of the Kunsthalle, which has recently entered a period of change. The galleries have been renovated, and paintings by the old and recent masters as well as the modern art collection have been rearranged into an attractive new hanging. An extension building offering 6.000 m of exhibition space has opened in February 1997, and houses the new collection of contemporary art - "New Modernist" art from 1960 onwards.