Since the foundation of the Museum Folkwang in Hagen in 1902, journalistic interest and critical research has concentrated mainly on those graphic works belonging to classical modernism and which today still form the focal point of the collection. In doing so it is often forgotten that the museum has not negligible holdings from the late 18th and 19th century. This begins, chronologically seen, with those artists, drawing on Baroque forms, who created a bourgeois art.
Among these are Daniel Nicolaus Chodowiecki and Jean Baptiste Greuze. They were followed by the groups of Romantics (Casper David Friedrich) and Nazarenes (Peter Cornelius, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, Julius Schnoor von Carolsfeld) whose style approached classicist forms in their formal reduction. Following the Romantics, there arose realist trends visible in landscape and figurative works (Christian Morgenstern, Adolph von Menzel). One can also observe a turn towards illustration (Ludwig Richter, Moritz von Schwind), others tended towards the theoretical (Hans von Marees). The 19th century collection concentrates on the period up to about 1850 due to the large Ludwig Richter collection, which the theology professor Karl Budde had bequeathed to the Essen Kunstverein as early as 1906, and which became a crystallization point for further acquisitions of 19th century works.
With the Museum Folkwang’s move from Hagen to Essen in 1922, the Graphic Arts Collection became ever larger. Ernst Gosebruch, who was very interested in contemporary art, placed new accents and acquired numerous aquarelles, drawings and prints by German Expressionists, with Emil Nolde originally especially well represented. With the merger of the Hagen and Essen art collection, Gosebruch also succeeded in expanding the 19th century collection. The museum’s second catalogue, from 1929 – the first appeared in 1912 – includes 229 drawings and 1222 print works. Further expansion of the modern art collection was brought to an abrupt end by the cultural policies of the Third Reich: With the ‘Entartete Kunst’ campaign, 1200 sheets were confiscated, which then disappeared for ever. Almost the entire section of post-1900 aquarelles, drawings and prints from was lost. The incomplete inventory of the day provides only glimpses of the loss.
In the post war era, because of financial constraints, at first mostly print works were acquired. Considerable expansion came with the acquisition of the works of Christian Rohlf in 1957 and Erich Heckel’s entire graphic works, with the exception of a few sheets. At the same time, the museum has been keen not to ignore post-1945 art and to expand the Graphic Arts Collection with contemporary art works.