The Discovery of the Collection

By Museum Folkwang

25 rooms – 25 stories of new beginnings and rediscoveries of neighbourhoods and resistances, of man and the unity of the arts. The new presentation of the collection in Museum Folkwang tells the story across media and epochs of new beginnings in ›New Worlds‹.

Recent acquisitions, works that have hardly been shown or have never been shown before are combined with the masterpieces of the collection to create inspiring constellations. Painting and photography, sculpture and graphic art, world art and posters enter into dialogue with each other in the spirit of the folkwang idea. The rooms are named after central works in the collection; in them, narratives unfold ranging from the ›Symbol of the Earth‹ or the ›Hallucinogenic Gaze‹ to ›Anomalies of the Early 21st Century‹.
In the process, changes are revealed through global developments, but also the unifying and universal nature of the arts and of man as well as his perception of the world.

From the beginnings of the collection with major works by Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin and the German Expressionists to the present day, the Folkwang cosmos is displayed from today’s perspective. The presentation invites visitors to rediscover the museum collection.

Scroll through the rooms of the collection presentation here or discover the tour on google maps with details of the exhibited works.

NEW WORLDS – Prometheus Bound

For centuries, artists have been dealing with the origins of civilization in their works. Prometheus is said to have designed the first people from clay and to have endowed them with human qualities. In the most ancient tradition, he is a cunning fraud, yet other artists and poets glorify him as a benefactor of mankind. However, the representations of other mythological figures in art – such as Max Beckmann’s ›Perseus‹ or Auguste Rodin’s ›Eva‹ – are just as ambiguous as the figure of Prometheus. Some cultures view the snake as the adversary of the divine and who overturns a harmonious paradisiacal state. At the same time, the snake is associated with extremely positive values in other cultural contexts: as a cosmic primal energy in eternal flow and circulation, thus sustaining the universe, or as the mythical being from whom all others descend.

NEW WORLDS – Ts'ung – Symbol der Erde

From angels and sirens to Pan and Flora, the god of the shepherds and the goddess of blossoms respectively: Hybrid beings traveling between heaven and earth have forever inspired artists over the centuries. In allegorical works, they descend to the people or up into the sky, taking on human form as messengers of the divine or directing the fate of the people down on earth. Hybrid beings stand for the connection between the cosmos and the earth, between youth and fertility, and between transience and death. Their close affinity to nature was the starting point for numerous pictorial creations, especially for symbolist artists such as Arnold Böcklin. But these motifs and their universal symbolism can also be found in expressionist works and in contemporary art as well.

NEW WORLDS – Ecce Homo

»Behold the man!« Honoré Daumier was known throughout his life primarily as a caricaturist. With ›Ecce Homo‹, he transfers his satirical style to the canvas and gives the unfinished painting a sculptural quality. The Latin title stems from the Gospel of John and has enjoyed an illustrious presence in art history since then. On the one hand, it describes the scene of Pontius Pilate’s »presentation of Christ«, depicting Jesus and the people of Jerusalem mocking him. On the other hand, it is used for devotional pictures portraying the suffering Christ as a half figure or as a standing whole figure. Time and again, the Christian pictorial tradition has inspired artists to develop new means of expression in order to give Man a tangible form in his fallibility and vulnerability.

NEW WORLDS – Doppelbildnis

More direct than the widespread genre of the portrait, the double portrait reveals the relationships between people. Emil Nolde portrays two sisters; Rudolf Belling lets Cain and Abel struggle. Portraits expose emotions, thoughts, and behavior—love and affection, but also conflict and alienation. The depictions range from the nervous first meeting or the lovers’ sexual act to the spirit of frolic and play or the struggle with death. Joy and sadness, elation and pain as well as affection and contempt find expression in very different ways. But the intimacy that is portrayed is sometimes also deceptive. Glances are cut short; they are often directed at the viewer and thus make us into observers and those who are observed at the same time. The counterpart depicted in the double portrait also enables a form of self-recognition thanks to the other.

NEW WORLDS – Monument for Tatlin

The fire of Notre Dame de Paris has showen that churches and cathedrals continue to have a symbolic character in our age. They are at the centre of urban society, an expression of human striving in art, and symbolize the connection between the heavens and the earth. Their architecture lets us experience this through imposing towers, lofty windows that flood the interior with light, or a raised location. Since the turn of the 20th century, structures such as the Eiffel Tower or utopian edifices such as by Vladimir Tatlin’s ›Monument for the Third International‹ (a never-realized design which envisaged a 300-metre-high structure) have been gaining symbolic meaning. Dan Flavin reflects Tatlin’s design in his staggered arrangements of fluorescent tubes, which bring the materials of glass and metal intended for use in the ›Monument‹ as well as its luminous character into the present.

NEW WORLDS – La moisson

Karl Ernst Osthaus (1874–1921) founded Museum Folkwang in Hagen in the year 1902. His passion for collection quickly became focussed on art by his contemporaries, some of which were not yet established at the time. He acquired the first paintings by Vincent van Gogh ever bought by a German museum. Osthaus acquired the painting ›The Wheatfield behind Saint Paul’s Hospital with a Reaper‹ from the artist’s first solo exhibition in Germany and showcased it at the Museum Folkwang opening in Hagen. The art being made in France in his day especially appealed to Osthaus. Early purchases included works by Gauguin, Cézanne, Signac and Matisse. Karl Ernst Osthaus and his wife Gertrud cultivated a friendship spanning decades with many artists, including Emil Nolde and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Osthaus was not just a collector but also a patron, and during his life he supported many artists in his sphere, including Christian Rohlfs, who moved into an apartment and the studio on the first floor of the museum in 1092 and lived and worked there until his death in 1938.

NEW WORLDS – Stilleben mit Holzfigur

In the early 20th century Karl Ernst Osthaus compiled collections of Modernist artworks, European craft items and non-European artworks from a wide range of cultural regions and placed these in dialogue with one another. After his death in 1921 the Osthaus Collection was acquired by the newly founded association Folkwang-Museumsverein for the City of Essen and in 1922 it was consolidated with the existing collection of the municipal museum Städtisches Kunstmuseum under the direction of Ernst Gosebruch. Like his friend Osthaus, Gosebruch, who had managed to acquire important works for Städtisches Kunstmuseum in the previous years, advocated supporting the artistic avant-garde and consistently expanded the museum collection up until his early retirement enforced by the Nazis in 1933. Early acquisitions made for the museum collection by Osthaus and Gosebruch in the years 1902 to 1914 are presented in this room.

NEW WORLDS – Le bassin aux nymphéas

Artists have been exploring various routes to abstraction ever since the 19th century. The subject of the landscape is critical to that search, since it is in observing nature that the gaze becomes lost. This process is utilized in painting: As the gaze wanders, recognizing the scenery in the distance but dissolving that which is close by into fields of colour, the subject of the image recedes to make way for what is happening on the canvas. Hence, in Cézanne’s canvasses the blots of colour (»taches«) on the canvas blend to form the rural architecture of a quarry, while the large-format ›Water Lily‹ paintings by Claude Monet appear like a sea of colour. Monet had been working on the idea of space-consuming »decoration« that lay behind this series of works since as early as 1914, and in 1927 he was able to realize it in the Orangerie in Paris, which became something of a »Sistine Chapel of Impressionism« post-1945. For artists like Mark Rothko, Monet’s handling of light and colour was a model to be emulated.


Josef Albers, who immigrated to the United States in 1933, became one of the main driving forces in American art in the second half of the 20th century with his series ›Homage to the Square‹. For the representatives of hard-edge painting, the image is not a pictorial illusion but a real object that occupies the wall of the exhibition space. They reject any recognizable artistic individuality and free composition of the image structure. Instead, the paint is applied extensively and evenly. The systematic division of the surface of the image emerges from its external form, which is not necessarily rectangular; rather, as in the case of Frank Stella and Kenneth Noland, it can take the form of various geometric shapes (»shaped canvas«). Thanks to their dimensions, the pictures make a strong impact on the space.

NEW WORLDS – Großes weißes Feld

Be it in painting or photography – the surface of the image needs to be mastered. And so artists investigate and expand it in series and experiments that revolve around figure and form: What is an image, how does it evolve, what boundaries does it have, and what does it evoke? Günther Uecker answers these questions with three-dimensional nail pictures that begin to shimmer with a change in light and as you move around them. Roman Opalka meticulously wrote successive numbers onto his canvasses. He saw these as symbolizing the passage of time. Lotte Jacobi, Oskar Kreisel and Otto Steinert created abstract photographs in the dark room, the images’ dynamism and expressivity generated solely through the changes in light on the photographic paper.

NEW WORLDS – Mädchen am Tisch

The variety of table scenes in art reflects the great diversity of human communication: families come together at the dining table to discuss the latest events; a table in the café hosts a casual meeting, and at the regular’s table in the local pub people drink, discuss, and play cards or games. But tables are also places of concentration and reflection, where people read, write down thoughts, or work. The best place to do this is in a secluded room. With ›SleepStudySkull‹, the Dutch artist collective Atelier van Lieshout has created a radical version of the study. Those who close the door behind them find themselves in a narrow cell that contains nothing but a bed, a bench, and a table.

NEW WORLDS – Regard halluciné

On closer inspection, the things that surround us at times appear strange and mysterious. The Surrealists harnessed this moment of wonder: In their works they united contrasting or disconnected aspects, or things happened upon by chance. In this way René Magritte, Yves Tanguy and Salvador Dalí created visual worlds that appear to have emerged from dreams or a state of intoxication, yet remain so close to reality that we feel like we know them. Whole landscapes grow out of blotches of paint here, or a street lamp illuminates the interior of a house. The ›Hallucinogenic Gaze‹ onto things remained important even after the dissolution of the close circle of Surrealists around André Breton in 1930. Following this, artists such as Max Ernst or WOLS became mediators who with their works passed on Surrealist principles down through generations and across national borders.

NEW WORLDS - Maschka mit Maske

Around 1918 Otto Mueller produced a painting of his wife Maschka with a confident flourish. He places a wooden mask next to her face – the mask symbolizes the painter himself, who felt estranged from Maschka. It also creates pictorial distance and shows how art works from across the world changed the formal canon of European art. The mask also has a function in theatrical performances: It exaggerates, caricaturizes and reveals character traits in a subtle way that would otherwise remain hidden behind the façade of the everyday. Be it in painting, printmaking, poster art or photography, the mask is ubiquitous. It provides a surface onto which fantasies can be projected and allows the protagonists to assume new roles.

NEW WORLDS – Spielende Formen

From 1911 onwards, an intense artistic exchange began between what were at the time two enemies, Germany and France: Franz Marc and Wassily Kandinsky, the founders of the artist group ›Der Blaue Reiter‹, made the acquaintance of French painter Robert Delaunay. In his art, Delaunay pursued an »activation of the eyes«. The colours in his works are animated through complementary contrasts and fragmented image areas. Caught up in the maelstrom of colour, the objects depicted become secondary as the colours come into play. Work series such as Delaunay’s ›Window‹ paintings not only inspired Franz Marc, for now colour emerged as an element that linked the group across national boundaries. »People like to call this universality«, wrote Delaunay to Marc in 1913, »synchronicity that expands beyond Europe, that stretches out from man into the universe.«


Youth is a time of transition. Young people no longer see themselves as children, yet nor are they considered by older people to be adults. For centuries, youth in all its ambivalence has provided inspiration for artists creating images. The pieces on show here present the diversity of this phase in life: The figures explore forms of expression for their nascent sexuality or highlight the ambiguity of gender. The youth in the painting by Edvard Munch, which originally belonged to a cycle of representations of various different age groups, appears manly and confident to the observer; Aristide Maillol, meanwhile, gives his ›Standing Figure‹ a sense of inner calm and composure. Roland Kopp’s photographs of young people in a village, on the other hand, make it clear that by growing up, you also lose the carefree abandon of childhood.

NEW WORLDS – Dancers 

After Max Pechstein returned from Paris, the nightlife in Berlin casts a spell on him. Inspired by the exciting world of vaudeville and theatre, he created his first compositions devoted to dance in 1909. In 1910, his preoccupation with the subject was even seen as the antithesis of working in the great outdoors. Pechstein notes: »Unfortunately, my Mori[t]zburg works are quite lacking in energy and [I] want to get going as soon as [I] have some means, [I] have two dance halls in mind [...]«. ›Dancers‹ is one of the paintings that Pechstein created in Berlin in autumn/winter 1910. By 1911, the work had already passed into the possession of the theatre critic and dramaturge Felix Hollaender, who succeeded Max Reinhardt as director of the Deutsches Theater Berlin. Privately owned since then, the Folkwang-Museumsverein was able to acquire the painting for the Museum Folkwang collection from the estate of Dr Walter and Liselotte Griese in December 2019. Here the new acquisition is placed in changing contexts, exhibited together with works by Edgar Degas, the artists’ group Die Brücke (The Bridge) and photographs of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre.

NEW WORLDS – Le petit blesse

Monuments are reminders of glorious persons, of victorious or lost battles. But even in smaller formats, sculptural works of art often move us with their gestures. From ancient Egypt to the Middle Ages and right up to the present century, the subject of human vulnerability has preoccupied sculptors since time immemorial. In the case of devotional objects, the thought of a life after death is the driving force behind the aesthetic examination. However, as in Käthe Kollwitz’s ›Tower of Mothers‹ or Emile-Antoine Bourdelle’s ›Study of a Wounded Soldier Standing‹, it can also reflect upon what has happened and create a sense of sympathy. In his work, George Minne illustrates a sensibility that is experienced both physically and emotionally by his figures. After all, it is the pieces themselves that speak as fragments of grievance and injury, thus narrating a part of their story.

NEW WORLDS – Anomalien des frühen 21. Jahrhunderts / Einige Fallbeispiele

In Sven Johne’s expansive text-and-photo work, photographs of well-known public figures—found and collected on the Internet—are juxtaposed with fictive biographies of unknown dropouts, underdogs, and losers invented by him and Sebastian Orlac. Based on August Sander’s portfolio of over 600 photographs in ›People of the 20th Century‹, Sven Johne sketches an updated and polarizing portrait of our present society one hundred years later. The »anomalies« mentioned in the title may be read as deviations from social norms. However, the displacements between text and photography potentially also create »case studies« for the degenerate worlds of the supposed losers in our society, on the one hand, and those who are in the public limelight, on the other.

NEW WORLDS – Nelly in Blumen

A father, the painter Otto Dix, looks at his child. Nelly is ecstatic amid the many flowers and the buzzing bees. Her eyes alert, her arms outstretched, and with an elated step, she discovers the world and is completely at one with herself. The initially so idyllic representation becomes slightly uncomfortable when viewed over a longer time. The plants seem to tower over Nelly, thus indicating that being a child is also connected with experiences of excessive demand, abandonment, and fear. The works of artists and photographers who depict children and their worlds often have something ambivalent about them. The adult world meets the supposedly carefree childhood and is reflected in it: childlike games and competitions anticipate the challenges of adulthood or forcefully show the viewer how fragile human existence is at every age.

NEW WORLDS – La vague

Time and again, natural phenomena form the starting point for the painterly exploration of their overwhelming manifestations and the question of how best to represent nature by means of painting. During his stays in Étretat on the French Atlantic coast, Courbet painted manifold variations on the powerfully surging breaking waves with their foamy spray. While in Courbet’s work, the motif of nature becomes a compelling symbol of his efforts to create a new, realistic depiction of nature, Zao Wou-Ki’s almost entirely abstract paintings penetrate right into the heart of nature and seek to capture its quintessence through painting. In Gerhard Richter’s ›Wolken‹ (Clouds), in contrast, a blurred painted detail of a photograph serves as a foil for regarding the copied image and the essence of painting as >second nature.< Morris Louis’ monumental poured painting is only remotely reminiscent of natural phenomena and—via abstraction and associative connections—returns to the depiction of natural forces as seen in the works of his counterparts.

NEW WORLDS – Chance and Order

How can artworks be created when depicting reality is no longer the central focus? For more than a century, artists have been searching for new answers to this question. Robert Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, and Piet Mondrian each experiment in their own way with boldly coloured, interrelating geometric forms. Max Bill takes up the musical idea of variations on a theme and develops a series of 15 lithographs, all based on the same initial motif. In the group of works entitled ›Chance and Order‹, Kenneth Martin intentionally incorporates chance into the creative process—a deliberate departure from the idea of artistic intuition. This results in forms that are surprising for the artist himself.

NEW WORLDS – Vermisst die Welt

The sight of the rising sun, a moonlit night above the lofty cliffs, a lively party on the edge of the forest, two people on the beach: landscapes often show places of longing and memory. In the works, the viewer sees mountains, plains, forests, and seas. At the same time, however, the paintings and photographs make human experiences and desires visible. Despite temporal and spatial distance, they enable the viewer to experience the ineffable and the unreachable.
While Camille Corot takes up the ancient narrative of a Golden Age (Arcadia) and has fauns dance around a temple, contemporary artists question landscape ideals such as paradise or untouched nature. Beate Gütschow, Katharina Fritsch, and Darren Almond use photographic means to address the rapture of the world through images by creating views of an imaginary reality. Those who miss the world begin to search for it, possibly penetrating deep into its vegetation and bedrock like Per Kirkeby.

NEW WORLDS – Alle reden vom Wetter. Wir nicht.

Art and advertising are closely connected with the modern metropolis. Posters, neon signs and display windows have shaped the appearance of urban space ever since the late 19th century. Modernist artists therefore frequently focused on the change this brought in people’s perceptions. Art and advertising both compete for the attention of the general public. Here, Pop Art consciously walks the fine line between a critical distance from advertising and the cult of celebrity on the one hand, and a calculated use of their aesthetic on the other. Poster designers for their part pick up on the pictorial language of art and photojournalism and work with the viewing habits and expectations that these engender. In this way, individual motifs and slogans alternate, each adapted for their own purposes, back and forth between the two sides.


What is »here« for some is »there« for others. Borders separate, determine territories, turn people into immigrants and emigrants, and distinguish different political systems and conventions from each other. With buildings and monuments, nations mark and visualise border demarcations. Yet borders can also change. German post-war history is marked by the building and surmounting of the Wall. In ›You are leaving the American Sector‹ (1964), Wolf Vostell assembles media images as collages depicting scenes around Checkpoint Charlie, while Meuser refers with the title of his objects ›DDR Wachturm und DDR Laster‹ (GDR Watchtower and GDR Vice) to the guarding of the inner German border. Deimantas Narkevicius also reflects on the former border between East and West. For his film ›The Head‹, he uses historical footage from the inauguration of the Karl Marx Monument in Chemnitz in 1971. Borders, however, are not only territorial. In Lovis Corinth’s work ›Thomas in Rüstung‹ (Thomas in Armour), the portrait of his own armoured son becomes a symbol of interpersonal father–son relationships.

NEW WORLDS – Les Naufragés

»In December 2014, I make my first entrance to Libya. I try to gain access to a detention center, which I manage to do in Zawiya, a male-only prison located 80 kilometers west of Tripoli. These are the first images I realize in Libya, and I only get one hour to take them. I am followed by a police officer who forbids some men to talk to me, and authorizes others arbitrarily. We are in the courtyard of the prison, surrounded by large walls. Some hundred people are there. The guards force the prisoners to squat for the «purpose» of the image.
Stages, humiliations: media practices that seem to be commonplace in the compound. I oppose to it. I decide to start with gathering testimonials instead and not to make photographs first, as an attempt to get away from this forced staging. However, the detainees quickly confess to me that they have received instructions from the jailers to specifically tell me that they have tried to reach Italy by sea. In fact, these men state that they came to Libya hoping to find work or to flee areas of conflict. Now they are moved from prison to prison without reason, without knowing when and how they can get out. As they look straight into my camera, I record their faces, but they are men without papers, without an official identity.«
Detention center for migrants, Zawiya, Libya

The ›Human Writes Drawings‹ by choreographer and artist William Forsythe arise during performances – when large-format sheets of paper, mounted on sturdy metal tables, are written on by dancers, who to this end use their hands, feet, and mouths. The rough drawings, so suffused with energy, refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed in 1948. To this day, institutions and countries are often admonished to comply with it.

NEW WORLDS – Der Fisch im Schafspelz

Animals play different and often contradictory roles in our lives. In both literature and theater, as well as in the visual arts and in arts and crafts, the motif of the animal has been used for millennia as a vessel filled with multiple meanings. In the collection of Museum Folkwang, the depictions range from tile decorations to the design of a hood ornament. Just as Pinocchio encounters the cunning fox and the smart cat in Carlo Collodi’s novel, animals become symbols due to their manifold characteristics. In pieces of jewelry or devotional objects, they transfer their powers to humans; in narratives and fairy tales, however, they also serve to caricature human characteristics. In this respect, the works exhibited here often serve as mirror for us humans.

Credits: Story
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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