In the Museum Folkwang Hagen and since 1922 – after its merger with the Municipal Art Museum in Essen – in the Museum Folkwang at today’s site, masterpieces of classical modernism were exhibited surprisingly early. The collection on exhibit presented works by Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, those of a younger generation, the so-called Fauves (Henri Matisse among others) and the German art groups “Brücke” and “Blauer Reiter”. For the museum’s founder, Karl Ernst Osthaus, personal contact with the artists and unrestricted commitment to contemporary art were the highest priorities. One of his principles was to acquire works directly from the artists. Osthaus, who had inherited enough to be financially independent, visited Renoir, Rodin and Cézanne in their studios.
Ernst Gosebruch, who led the Essen art museum from 1906 and who was named director of the new institution in Essen, was a friend of the Hagen collector and patron Karl Ernst Osthaus and was as committed as his friend to the artistic Avant-garde of the day. Gosebruch also collected those works by contemporary French painters and German Expressionists, as well as paintings by the Romantics, naturally always within the limits of his finances defined in the budget of the ambitious heavy industrial town of Essen.
For him it was thus a unique opportunity when the executor of the estate of Karl Ernst Osthaus, who had died in 1921, suggested his acquiring the Hagen collection for Essen. Well integrated in Essen industrial circles, Gosebruch succeeded in raising the necessary funding. The donors founded the Folkwang-Museumsverein, which both then and today ensures with the city the continuity of this cultural institute.
During the Third Reich, the Museum Folkwang became a target of National Socialist culture policies. In the wake of a malicious campaign against so-called ‘Entartete Kunst’, the Museum Folkwang, at the time indisputably a center of Modernism in Germany, lost major works, among others by Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, Giorgio de Chirico, Edmund Cross, André Derain, Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch.
However, through a clever and committed purchasing policy in the decades after 1945, the museum directors succeeded in filling the most painful gaps and regaining its pre-war reputation: already with the opening of the new building in 1960, its high standing and excellent name as a pioneering art institution had been restored.
Since the 1970’s and up to today, the collection has steadily expanded. Its core themes, as set by Osthaus, have been revitalized and even extended; at the same time – as a continuation of Osthaus’s ideas on contemporary art – significant works of contemporary art have been acquired. Paintings were given priority so that, by the year 2000 it had become one of the most extensive museums of 19th and 20th century painting.