Painting, Sculpture, Media Art


Blick in die Sammlungspräsentation NEUE WELTEN, 2019

The Museum Folkwang was founded in 1902 as one of the first museums of contemporary art in the world and still sees itself from this tradition today. The internationally renowned collection focuses on French and German modernist works, especially from the post-impressionist and expressionist periods, while the early 19th century is represented by important Romantic and Classicist paintings. In the 1950s and 1960s, substantial convolutions of high-calibre works of US Abstract Expressionism as well as European Informel were assembled. In addition, a diverse collection of video art was shaped by a video studio at the museum that was particularly active in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, the steadily growing collection picks up on current trends in international contemporary art.



At an extraordinarily early stage, masterpieces of classical modernism were shown in the Museum Folkwang Hagen and, since 1922 – after the merger with the Städtisches Kunstmuseum in Essen – in the Museum Folkwang at its present location The display collections presented paintings by Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, the so-called Fauves (Henri Matisse and others), who were a generation younger, and the German artists' associations "Brücke" and "Blauer Reiter". For the museum's founder Karl Ernst Osthaus, personal contact with the artists and an unreserved commitment to contemporary art had priority. One of his principles was to acquire the works for his collection directly from the artists. Osthaus, who was financially independent through his inheritance, visited Renoir, Rodin and Cézanne in their studios.

Ernst Gosebruch, who had been in charge of building up the Essen art collections since 1906 and was appointed director of the young Essen Institute in 1909, was a friend of the Hagen collector and patron Karl Ernst Osthaus and, like the latter, was committed to the artistic avant-garde of the time. Gosebruch, too, collected works by contemporary French painters and German Expressionists, as well as paintings by the Romantics, always, of course, within the financial constraints imposed on him by the budget of the burgeoning mining and industrial city of Essen.

So a unique opportunity presented itself for him when the executor of the estate of Karl Ernst Osthaus, who died in 1921, presented him with the idea of acquiring the Hagen collection for Essen. Well-established in Essen's business circles, Gosebruch succeeded in creating the financial conditions for the purchase. The donors founded the Folkwang-Museumsverein, which then as now, together with the municipality, ensured the continuity of this art institute.

During the Third Reich, the Museum Folkwang became a target of National Socialist cultural policy. In the course of the smear campaigns against so-called degenerate art, the Museum Folkwang, at that time undeniably a centre of modern art in Germany, lost magnificent works by Georges Braque, Paul Cézannes, Giorgio de Chirico, Edmund Cross, André Derain, Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch, among others.

However, in the decades after 1945, the museum's management succeeded in closing the most painful gaps and restoring the museum to the profile it had acquired in the pre-war period through a policy of acquisitions that was as clever as it was committed: By the time the new building opened in 1960, its high rank and excellent reputation as a trend-setting art institute had already been restored.

Since the 1970s and up to the present, the scope of the collections has been steadily increasing. The focal points of the collection founded by Osthaus were restored and even expanded; at the same time, important works of contemporary art were collected, continuing Osthaus' idea of contemporaneity. The panel painting was given priority, so that by the year 2000 one of the most extensive museums of 19th and 20th century painting had been created.


The collection currently comprises around 1500 works by around 500 artists, most of which were created between 1800 and the present. The outstanding collection makes it possible to trace important trends in the development of European and North American modernism up to the present. Whereas until the 1950s it was mainly paintings and sculptures that were collected, the collection has since opened up to all media and materials in line with artistic developments. The tradition of close collaboration with contemporary artists, which began with the museum's founder Karl Ernst Osthaus, is still being pursued today, most recently with the launch of the New Folkwang Residency.


Image enquiries via


Curator 19th und 20th century
Dr. Nadine Engel
T +49 201 8845 101

Curator Contemporary Art (on parental leave)
Dr. Anna Fricke

Curator Anna Brohm (parental leave substitute)
T +49 201 8845 155

Research Fellow: Antonina Krezdorn
T +49 201 8845 116
F +49 201 8845 001