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The Kunstverein in Bremen from its Beginnings until Today

Senator Dr. jur. Hieronymus Klugkist by Friedrich Adolf DreyerKunsthalle Bremen

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At the end of 1823, Senator Hieronymus Klugkist invited 34 art lovers to join together and found the Kunstverein in Bremen (Art Association). Already in the following month, the first "statutes" of the Verein were drawn up, articulating as its purpose "to spread and refine a sense of beauty". Five gentlemen, including Klugkist, were appointed as "directorate" and began work in January 1824. With initially around 50 members, they met for the common admiration of works of art.

The committee for the library and department of prints and drawings (1900)Kunsthalle Bremen

...together and lively...

The Department of Prints and Drawings is the origin and the heart of the collection of the Kunstverein in Bremen. The initially few members met regularly for weekly appreciation of art, in which prints were discussed. The collection should become a place of "ideal enjoyment", less through instructive lectures than the "common consideration of good works of art" and lively discussions, as the Executive Board describes in the 1901/02 Annual Report.

Remembrance Bremen - KunsthalleKunsthalle Bremen

The Construction of the Kunsthalle (1847 to 1849)

In the first years, the Kunstverein did not have its own building for its temporary exhibitions and for the development of a collection. It was only from 1847 to 1849 that the building of the Kunsthalle was constructed according to the plans of the architect Lüder Rutenberg, financed by donations from the members of the association. To this day, the Kunstverein owns the Kunsthalle – an almost unique feature in the German museum landscape.

Union and Kunsthalle, Julius Gottheil, 1863, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Kunsthalle (on the left side). The Union of 1801 (on the right side), a club of young merchants, built in 1801 clubhouse on the corner Am Wall/Ostertorstraße. The building was demolished in 1905 and the police building, which now houses the city library, was built.

The first building of the Kunsthalle, c. 1880, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Parthie am Altenwall, (Altmanns-Höhe), From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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In the background you can see the Kunsthalle (from its backside). On the left side on top of the "Altmannshöhe" stands one of the seven mills that were built at the beginning of the 19th century as part of the transformation of the ramparts into an English landscape garden.

Blue Flag Iris (c. 1503) by Albrecht DürerKunsthalle Bremen

Great Foundations and Legacies in the 19th Century

Gifts and legacies of paintings and works on papers well as financial donations contributed significantly to the expansion of the holdings and laid the foundation for its outstanding quality. In 1851, Hieronymus Klugkist bequeathed to the Kunstverein the printed work and watercolours by Albrecht Dürer. Among them, for example, the Blue-flowered Iris of around 1503.

Founding member Johann Heinrich Albers left the Kunstverein a collection of Dutch masters and 15.000 prints, including 300 etchings by Rembrandt.

In 1885 the Kunsthalle received 6.000 Italian colour woodcuts by Melchior Hermann Segelken and in 1905 over 100.000 prints by Goya, Munch, Menzel, Klinger and Toulouse-Lautrec and others from H. H. Meier, Jr.

Artist Drawing after a Model, Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, c. 1639, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The old staircase of the Kunsthalle Bremen by Eduard Gildemeister (1910)Kunsthalle Bremen

Extension from 1899 to 1902

The substantial expansion of the collection made a first extension of the Kunsthalle necessary. The construction costs were once again financed entirely by donations, while the city again provided the grounds. The extension was constructed following plans by the Bremen architects Albert Dunkel and Eduard Gildemeister. In addition, in 1904 the street facade of the old building was replaced by a new sandstone facade.

Staircase with the former cast collection of antique sculptures, 1910, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Postcard of the Kunsthalle Bremen, 1910, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Portrait of Gustav PauliKunsthalle Bremen

The First Director (1899 to 1914)

Gustav Pauli made the Kunsthalle Bremen a nationally acclaimed gallery of modern art. He acquired works of contemporary German Impressionism as well as outstanding French painting. The purchase of van Gogh's Poppy Field led to the "artists' dispute" of 1911: conservative painters and critics protested while the Kunsthalle and leading contemporary artists advocated the entry of French modernism into German museums.

A Dispute of Artists, 1911, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Field with Poppies, Vincent van Gogh, 1889, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Okazaki: Yahagi Bridge, from the series: "Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road", Utagawa Hiroshige, c. 1831-1834, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Memorial plaque for Dr. med. H. H. Meier jr., Georg Roemer, 1907, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Poster for France-Champagne, Pierre Bonnard, 1889-1891, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Nativity (1507) by Albrecht AltdorferKunsthalle Bremen

"Degenerate Art"
and War Losses (1914 to 1945)

Like Pauli, director Emil Waldmann focused on the collection. Later, serious challenges awaited him: the campaign "Degenerate Art" of the National Socialists, bombing and the evacuation of the collection during the Second World War. Even though works have returned in recent years, the Kunsthalle's war losses are still high.

The Women’s Bath, Albrecht Dürer, 1496, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Kunsthalle originally owned 48 drawings and watercolors by Albrecht Dürer. After the war 1945 only three drawings remained in the collection. The Women's Bath returned in 2001.

Child of a farmer from Worpswede sitting on a chair, Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1905, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The painting was rescued in 1937 by Rolf Hetsch from the masses of works of art confiscated as "degenerate" in Berlin and loaned for safekeeping by a "foreign member". Rolf Hetsch's wife returned the work in 1945.

Self-Portrait at the Easel, Max Liebermann, 1916, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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As part of the campaign “Degenerate Art”, 15 paintings had to be banished to the depot, including all paintings by Max Liebermann. They were also omitted from the inventory catalogue published in 1939

The stairwell (ground floor) after the fundamental renovation of the war damage (1961)Kunsthalle Bremen

Reconstruction and Expansion of the Collection (1945 to 1984)

In 1950 Günther Busch became director of the Kunsthalle. In addition to the challenge of renovating the war-damaged building, he rebuild the holdings of Expressionists after the losses under the National Socialists. He also supported the oeuvre of Paula Modersohn-Becker through acquisitions and exhibitions. A lively exhibition program, educational work and increased administrative operation again made an extension of the building necessary, which was completed in 1984 according to plans by Werner Düttmann.

Self-Portrait before a Green Background with Blue Iris, Paula Modersohn-Becker, 1900-1907, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The second extension of the Kunsthalle Bremen by Werner Düttmann (2008)Kunsthalle Bremen

Contemporary Art and Empty Coffers (1985 to 1993)

Even though he had hardly any funds available, Siegfried Salzmann was able to enlarge the holdings, especially in the field of contemporary art and sculpture. This was made possible by the “Förderkreis für Gegenwartskunst im Kunstverein Bremen” (the Supporters’ Circle for Contemporary Art), founded in 1971, as well as the Founders’ Circle for the "Bremen Art Prize" (since 1984). For the first time, the museum shop, which is still supported by volunteers today, began its work.

View into the galleryKunsthalle Bremen

Media Art and Blockbuster Exhibitions (1994 to 2011)

With director Wulf Herzogenrath, media art found its way into the collection. Several art works which were lost during the war were returned or could be bought back for the collection. Large special exhibitions attracted a high numbers of visitors and the members of Kunstverein doubled to more than 7,000. Another extension opened in 2011 – two symmetrical wing structures designed by architects Hufnagel Pütz Rafaelian and financed by the State of Bremen, federal funds and two member families of the Kunstverein.

View into the central room of the gallery on the first floor after the renovations, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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Exterior view of the Kunsthalle Bremen after the extension by Michael GielenKunsthalle Bremen

Art in the Age of Globalisation (since 2011)

Under Christoph Grunenberg's directorship, the museum is increasingly seeking international networks. The care and research of the collection remains a focus with projects such as provenance research and the digitization of the complete holdings. With its diverse educational program, but also innovative exhibitions and projects, the Kunsthalle Bremen aims to be an open museum that attracts a broad public and is at the center of current social debates.

Imploded Cube, Ewerdt Hilgemann, 2014, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The stainless steel cube was deformed by Ewerdt Hilgemann in a public "implosion action" on occasion of the Long Night of Museums on 24 May 2014.

The old hall of the KupferstichkabinettKunsthalle Bremen

The studyroom of the Cabinett of Prints and drawings is listed, so it was not touched during the renovation. But in the rooms next to it...

Prize of the Böttcherstraße, From the collection of: Kunsthalle Bremen
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The Prize of the Böttcherstraße is one of the oldest and most important prizes for emerging art in Germany. It is supported by the Founders’ Circle of the Kunstverein in Bremen.

Credits: Story

Kunsthalle Bremen
Am Wall 207
28195 Bremen, Germany

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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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