The Museum of Fine Arts owns about 4,600 paintings from late Middle Ages to the present, 1,800 sculptures, more than 70,000 works on paper and over 5.000 photographs. Ever since the foundation of the museum, the inventory was continuously increased by means of private donations and patronages. Today the collection is one of the largest in Germany. Discover over 500 years of art history alongside the Old Masters Frans Hals and Lucas Cranach, works from the Romantic Period by Caspar David Friedrich and Andreas Achenbach, and a wide range of art from Leipzig.
Dedicated citizens of Leipzig paved the way to a municipal collection of paintings, granting it the striking profile it has today. The works discussed here represent just a few highlights in a collection of paintings, which, in its entirety, traces 600 years of European art. In 1837 valuable endowments allowed the collection to grow to more than 3,000 items. Regrettably, however, a number of sales by the onset of the nineteen-twenties caused significant losses. The ban of certain artworks as “Entartete Kunst” during the Nazi Regime in 1937, and more losses in the Second World War also severely damaged the collection in ways that could not be compensated during the GDR era.
With the initial target to feature contemporary art, works by artists from previous centuries were added to the still novel collection in 1847. Since then works by Dutch 17th-century artists, which were particularly popular among private art collectors in Leipzig, have formed the focal point of our Old Masters Painting Collection. Counting almost 400 paintings, the particularity of the collection predominantly lies in its wealth of characteristic works by artists recognized as specialists in their field. Intimate everyday depictions, fascinating portraits, landscapes, architectural paintings and still lives frequently combine detailed portrayal with profound symbolism. By contrast, there is only a scarcity of Flemish paintings, which have never been central to Leipzig’s collections. Other valuable works include roughly 60 paintings by old German and Dutch master artists from the 15th and 16th centuries, and a scope of 18 unique pieces by both Lucas Cranach’s. Our scope of artworks with religious themes shows the transformation from late medieval perception of form into the thought traditions of Renaissance and Humanism. Portraits, nudes and landscapes mirror a new relationship to humans and their environment. In comparison with royal collections, art from Romance countries assumes a minor role in Leipzig, counting around 100 paintings by Italian, Spanish, and rare French masters from the period between the 15th to 18th century. Small-format works around Christian themes are most presently featured, which used to serve the purpose of private devotion. These paintings succeed in capturing the diversity of Italian art, and outline the prevalence of local art schools within economically and politically dominating city states and regions. A small portfolio of works represents 17th and 18th-century art, markedly portrait paintings. The trend of replacing portraits of royalty through character portraits of the bourgeoisie visibly documents the intellectual and social upheavals during the age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. Special tribute has to be paid to the portrait collection of the Leipziger Kramermeister, given as a loan to the museum by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Leipzig.
A characteristic of the group of paintings Neue Meister is its width of approximately 750 artworks from the 19th century, which have undergone a metamorphosis from German Classicism / Romanticism to Impressionism / Symbolism. The collection provides a coherent overview of the most important art centres and schools in Germany, including Munich, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Dresden, and Leipzig. Next to single outstanding artworks, we hold some personal collections by most renowned artists. Two private endowments have made it possible for Leipzig to be in possession of a special collection of French paintings, which is unique among German museums. It encompasses artworks from the period about 1800, and intimate portrayals of nature and scenery in tradition of the Barbizon School. Our art collection from the first half of the twentieth century comprises oeuvre from Saxony that has undergone a shift from symbolism, with Max Klinger as a key figure, to veristic works of social criticism. Classic Modernist art is only present in a few characteristic works of Expressionism and New Objectivity. The establishment of the prestigious Max Beckmann Hall is to be attributed to the generosity of some lenders to the museum.
The GDR is represented in over 500 artworks. We showcase art from Berlin, Dresden and Halle, while local paintings from Leipzig form the broad epicentre, and are exhibited in a blending of various thematic and stylistic differences. In contrast, individual works (often art loans) insufficiently reveal West Germany’s post-1945 art culture. Recent purchases, generous endowments, and loans from private collectors are oriented towards creating a bridge between today’s artworks to those which younger generations of artists have produced since the 1990ies.
Collection of Prints and Drawings
When the Municipal Museum threw open its doors to the general public in 1848, 41 drawings and watercolours by contemporary artists and a small collection of older copperplate engravings and woodcuts were among the artworks that the Art Society donated to the Aldermen Council. Nobody guessed at the time that from these humble beginnings, a collection would grow whose portfolio has since swollen to around 55,000 drawings and graphics.
Although the Leipzig collection only contains certain groups of works or important individual sheets by numerous artists, almost the entire oeuvre by other masters are preserved. The complete graphic work by William Hogarth, Daniel Chodowiecki and Johann Friedrich is kept alongside Anton von Dyck’s “iconography”.
Max Klinger’s work, characterised by a rare unity, has a special standing in Leipzig. The collection of drawings enjoys global renown. The basis of the Old Masters is found in the Johann August Otto Gehler collection, a lawyer from Leipzig who died in 1822, which was passed on to the museum in 1859 as a legacy from his descendents in the Dörriensche Foundation; it covers masterpieces by German, Dutch, Italian and French artists from the end of the 15th to the start of the 19th centuries. In 1952, the Leipzig City Library passed on to the Graphic Collection almost 5,000 drawings from the Italian High Baroque era, contained in 56 books with adhesive binding. They had been purchased by the Aldermen Council in 1714 and originated mainly from the estate of Queen Christine of Sweden. Since then, masterful pages by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Salvator Rosa and other artists have contributed significantly to the Leipzig collection’s international reputation.
Just like in the museum’s Painting Collection, the German art of drawing from the 18th to the 20th centuries is represented to an unusually rich and comprehensive degree. The portfolio of drawings by Max Beckmann stands out. The Graphic Collection contains 360 drawings from Mathilde Q. Beckmann’s estate alone, given as permanent loans. In the art of drawing during the second half of the 20th century, the pages mirror several generations in the dynamic variety of artistic work in the GDR, whereby work by artists from Leipzig is particularly outstanding in its range of individual signatures.
Collection of Sculptures
The Sculpture Collection was established in 1848 with a series of plaster casts of famous works from antiquity and the Renaissance and also contemporary model plaster works and sculptures. This old stock was wound down in 1912 and restructured as a contemporary sculpture collection. Numbering over 800 works of sculpture, the Museum of Fine Arts now has East Germany’s third largest sculpture collection, trailing just Berlin and Dresden. A collection of medals and badges, 400 pieces-strong and consisting of work by German and French artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, complements this portfolio.
These days, the late medieval wooden sculptures, the bronze statuette “Flora” by Adriaen de Vries, the Saxon Baroque sculpture with works by Balthasar Permoser and some exquisite Classicist sculptures may indeed be remarkable eye-catchers in the collection, but they appear more like a delightful introduction to the main pieces, sculptures from the second half of the 19thcentury and the whole 20th century. The selection contains work by renowned artistic figures that characterised developments in Berlin, Dresden or Leipzig. The collection centres mainly on genre-defining, topical work in a statuette format, created entirely in the services of bourgeois representative commissions. The seventy Klinger works are the particular treasure in the Leipzig collection, including numerous original plaster casts and working models in addition to his most important coloured sculptures. In the interaction with a host of works by other Saxon artists, they characterise the uninterrupted development in local art from the middle of the 19th century until 1945, which Klinger so dominated. Several hundred animal sculptures, donated to the museum by the Paul Geipel Foundation and arranged around the central group of works by August Gaul, represent a special collection. Furthermore, there is an independent group of sculptures by French and Belgian artists from the turn of the century.
Classic Modernism was observed with interest; however, there was a more conservative selection in purchasing at the start of the 20th century. The pieces are characterised by figurine-objective styles, and less by expressive trends. Representatives of the artistic centres in Dresden, Berlin and Leipzig fly the flag for GDR sculpture. The local tradition of figurative sculpture is represented convincingly, placing works with a political-appellative character next to small-scale, intimate pieces that reflect personal views of life.