History
of the Museum

“… that this Städelsches Kunstinstitut that I have founded may be a true adornment to this city and also prove useful to its citizens.”

Johann Friedrich Städel, 1815
The Städel at 200

Milestones of a 200-year-old institution founded by a citizen

The Städel at 200

When Johann Friedrich Städel wrote his will in 1815, he laid the cornerstone for Germany’s oldest museum foundation. March 15, 2015 is the 200th anniversary of that historic day. In its anniversary year, the Städel will present itself with numerous prestigious exhibition and research projects abreast of the times. At the museum, we attach special importance to increasing our digital education offers. In the context of its “digital expansion”, the Städel is developing a wide range of new narrative forms representing a freely accessible, innovative alternative to the classical museum visit and fulfilling the museum’s educational mandate far beyond the physical bounds of the building. “The increasing digitalization of our living environment also concerns supposedly analogue cultural contents such as a five-hundred-year-old Dürer painting or a drawing by Henri Matisse. If we take proper advantage of the potential of ever-advancing digital developments and succeed in offering a true alternative, we are preparing the ground for the future of the institution and the Städel Museum’s next two hundred years.”

“The increasing digitalisation of the world we live in is also relevant to supposedly analogue cultural content such as a five-hundred-year-old Dürer painting or a hand drawing by Henri Matisse. If we make good use of the potential inherent in the continual advance of digital technology and succeed in developing a genuine alternative offer, we are paving the way for the future of the institution and the next two hundred years of the Städel Museum.”

Max Hollein, former Director of the Städel Museum, 2014
Frankfurt builds the new Städel

Frankfurt builds the new Städel

The expansion of the Städel Museum

The opening of the extension for the presentation of contemporary art represented the largest expansion in the history of the Städel Museum, both architecturally and with regard to content. The light-flooded gallery beneath the Städel Garden adds some 3,000 square metres of exhibition space and doubles the size of the presentation of our holdings. Thanks to unprecedented support from companies, foundations and innumerable citizens, the 52-million-euro project was financed to equal degrees from private and public funds. Within the context of the extension, the entire old building, featuring the Modern Art and Old Masters collections, was refurbished. Exactly 1,619 days after the send-off, the extension project came to its successful conclusion on 22 February 2012.

From Vision to Reality

Other films about the collections

  • The completed subterranean extension: contemporary art beneath the skylight dome
  • The construction site in the summer of 2011

“A small wonder that, in this form, could only have come about in Frankfurt.”

Winand von Petersdorff, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2012

The growing museum

Since the very beginning, the Städel Museum has continually developed its collection both quantitatively and qualitatively. In the area of contemporary art, it was expanded by over 1,000 works within just a few years. Major contributions came from the holdings of the Deutsche Bank and DZ Bank corporate collections. It was also enriched through the strong financial support of the Städelkomitee 21. Jahrhundert founded in 2007, as well as purchases by, and major donations from, private persons and artists. In order to present the collection of contemporary art in such a way as to do justice to its quality and quantity, a competition for the design of an extension was tendered in 2007. On 18 February 2008, the architectural firm schneider+schumacher took first place.

  • Model: the winning design by schneider+schumacher
  • The Städel storerooms bursting at the seams, making an extension indispensable

“Museums have to develop continually; their collections have to keep pace with the present. Already Johann Friedrich Städel stipulated in his will that the collection was to be ‘increased … and perfected from year to yearʼ.”

Max Hollein, former Director of the Städel Museum

Some acquisitions made in the twenty-first century

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    Corinne Wasmuht, Barrier (2008)

    Corinne Wasmuht, Barrier (2008)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    © Corinne Wasmuht
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    The Städelkomitee 21. Jahrhundert devotes its efforts to the acquisition of contemporary art for the museum.

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    Gerhard Richter, Boat Trip (1965)

    Gerhard Richter, Boat Trip (1965)

    Deutsche Bank Collection at the Städel Museum
    © Gerhard Richter
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    This famous painting is from the group of works placed in the Städel Museum’s possession by the Deutsche Bank in 2008.

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    Otto Steinert, Pedestrian’s Foot (1950)

    Otto Steinert, Pedestrian’s Foot (1950)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    © Otto Steinert
    Photo: Städel Museum
    The Städel Museum’s photo collection is making a major new acquisition: with support from the Kulturstiftung der Länder and the Hessische Kulturstiftung, the Städelscher Museums-Verein and the Städel Museum are purchasing a comprehensive group of photographs from Annette and Rudolf Kicken.

The two sides of the river Main become the Museum Embankment

Frankfurt gained a new awareness of the Main and its banks as its vital artery. In 1984 the “Museumsufer” project was put into effect. Under the motto of “Culture for all”, existing collections were presented in fresh ways, and new institutions were established along the banks of the Main. The Städel acquired an extension in which some parts of the modern and contemporary collection could be shown, and where for the first time there was room for special exhibitions. The main building, too, benefited from this mood of innovation and was extensively renovated, with the help of the “Gunst-Sammlung” (Goodwill Collection) fundraising drive. Nowadays Frankfurt’s Museum Embankment is among the most important museum locations in Germany.

  • The extension on the Holbeinstrasse side, designed by Gustav Peichl, is completed in 1990.
  • The first post-war exhibition of more than regional significance: Max Beckmann, 1947. This was the programmatic return of the great painter, who had strong links with Frankfurt and who was decried as “degenerate” during the Nazi period.

“In Frankfurt we can already get a foretaste of what the museums of the future will need to be like in order to be accepted.”

Marli Feldvoss, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 2006
The long process of reconstruction

The long process of reconstruction

18 years after the end of the war, the Städel too is considered fully restored

The whole of Frankfurt faced this task: sifting, clearing, reappraising. The Städel similarly faced the very difficult challenges of bringing back works from storage sites elsewhere, giving back wrongfully acquired works and reconstructing the partially destroyed building. While some parts were usable from 1947 onwards, it was on 9 November 1963 that the process was complete: after twenty years the people of Frankfurt had their Städel back. Some new additions were also to be seen, such as works by the Baroque painter Adam Elsheimer, and also modern paintings such as those of Franz Marc, confiscated in 1937 and now repurchased.

  • Façade of the museum facing the Main, with the corner projections added by Johannes Krahn, 1963
  • Damage on the west side of the Städel

“From the Engadin, where we had just been walking upstream along the river Inn, we came by train and aeroplane to Frankfurt; following the Main downstream for some way, in a stiff, cold wind, we turn off into the Städel, where we are immediately struck by its palpably patched-up wounds from the Second World War.”

Martin Disler, writer and painter, 1986

Some acquisitions made in the twentieth century

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    Max Liebermann, Free Period in the Amsterdam Orphanage (1881/82)

    Max Liebermann, Free Period in the Amsterdam Orphanage (1881/82)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    The work by the German Impressionist was the first acquisition by the newly founded Städelscher Museums-Verein in 1900 – and immediately caused a scandal. Impressionism was still a highly controversial movement at the time, and the debates over the purchase were accordingly spirited.

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    Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, The Blinding of Samson (1636)

    Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, The Blinding of Samson (1636)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    In 1904, for the first time, the city of Frankfurt contributed to the purchase of an important painting for the Städel. With combined financial efforts, Rembrandt’s monumental painting “The Blinding of Samson” was acquired from Vienna. Heinrich von Angeli, painter at the Viennese court, commented as follows on the negotiations for the work’s purchase: “If you don’t buy that painting you’re crazy!”

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    Adam Elsheimer, Altarpiece of the Exaltation of the True Cross (1605–1608/09)

    Adam Elsheimer, Altarpiece of the Exaltation of the True Cross (1605–1608/09)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    A major acquisition of the year 1950: the central panel of the Altarpiece of the Cross by Adam Elsheimer. Over the course of the following three decades, the inconceivable came true: the remaining six panels turned up again one after the other and were purchased for the Städel. More than 350 years after its completion, the altarpiece was thus reunited in its entirety.

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    Franz Marc, Dog Lying in the Snow (ca. 1910/11)

    Franz Marc, Dog Lying in the Snow (ca. 1910/11)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    One of the repurchases of art labelled “degenerate” and confiscated by the Nazis has been back in the Städel since 1961. In 2007 it was elected “favourite painting” by Städel visitors.

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    Dan Flavin, Untitled (1993)

    Dan Flavin, Untitled (1993)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    © VG Bild-Kunst
    Photo: Städel Museum – ARTOTHEK
    On the occasion of the exhibition “Lichträume” (“Light Spaces”) in 1993, the American Minimalist Dan Flavin designed an installation of 132 coloured fluorescent lamps for the new building.

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    Jean-Antoine Watteau, Embarking to Cythera (ca. 1709–10)

    Jean-Antoine Watteau, Embarking to Cythera (ca. 1709–10)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    The Old Masters collection continues to grow – at the highest level of quality. This 1982 acquisition is a splendid enhancement to the museum’s eighteenth-century French holdings.

1900–1945

1900–1945

1933–1945: Under National Socialist rule

The seizure of power by the National Socialists brought about profound changes in Frankfurt’s cultural institutions. At the Städel, staffing policy, exhibitions and above all the selection of new acquisitions, of which there were many, were increasingly in thrall to the regime, though now and then risky departures from the dictates of its cultural policy were attempted. In 1937 the “Degenerate Art” campaign led to substantial losses in the department of modern art: in that year 77 paintings were confiscated as “degenerate” art. Already in 1939 the major part of the collection was evacuated because of the war. The museum closed in 1943; in 1944 it was struck by bombs.

“Say how it began. / How did it look at you / With its extinguished eyes, / The city? / And what did the mouth say, / That ravaged mouth, / Awakening, what did the mouth say? ...”

Marie Luise Kaschnitz, Return to Frankfurt, 1945
  • Of Vincent van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet, 1890, the museum now has only the frame. (Photo: Holde Schneider)

Around 1920: The vision of a “German central museum” in Frankfurt

In parallel with its wide-ranging modernisation – “the new Frankfurt” – the city was keen to emphasise its historical and cultural significance for the region and for the republic. Inspired by the idea of educating the public, there was a movement in the 1920s to regard all municipal and private museum collections jointly as a “living cultural factor” in society – and from 1922 onwards this endeavour was under the central guidance of the director of the Städel. The purchase of large numbers of works from the important collection of the Prince of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was celebrated in 1928, even before it was completed, as a great success for Frankfurt.

“The planned purchase of part of the Sigmaringen collections, which is to be effected on exceptionally favourable terms for the Frankfurt museums, would represent for them the greatest imaginable enhancement of their status for all time to come, and give them the character of a German central museum.”

Ludwig Landmann, Mayor of Frankfurt, 1928

Some purchases made in the nineteenth century

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    Lucas Cranach, Venus (1532)

    Lucas Cranach, Venus (1532)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum - ARTOTHEK
    On the occasion of the inauguration of the museum building on the Sachsenhausen bank in 1878, Frankfurt businessman, art collector and Städel administrator Moritz von Gontard presented the Städel with a true gem: Lucas Cranach’s “Venus”.

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    Jan van Eyck, Lucca Madonna (ca. 1437/38)

    Jan van Eyck, Lucca Madonna (ca. 1437/38)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK
    The collection of King William II of the Netherlands was auctioned off in The Hague in 1850. A windfall for the Städel: the Lucca Madonna by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling’s “Portrait of a Man Wearing a High Red Cap”, and a number of precious Raphael drawings were purchased for the museum.

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    Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1787)

    Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein, Goethe in the Roman Campagna (1787)

    Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
    Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK
    “In the noblest art institution of the poet’s native town, it is the first painting to greet the visitor upon entering”, A. Hanke wrote in 1915. Thanks to its donation by Baroness Adèle von Rothschild, the famous painting of Goethe has been in the museum since 1887.

around 1900: Frankfurt enjoys a boom and modernises – with the help of its citizens

As the population grew fourfold in the few decades prior to 1910, the municipal institutions and private foundations and associations also expanded and thrived. The Städel benefited from such public and private commitment: the Städelscher Museums-Verein was founded in 1899 as an expression of communal patronage by citizens, and from 1907 onwards the city financed a Municipal Gallery for Modern Art within the long-established, private Städel Foundation.

“For every Frankfurt citizen, Frankfurt and the Städel go together like the Pitti and Florence.”

Fried Lübbecke, Frankfurt art historian, 1912
Move to the Schaumainkai

Move to the Schaumainkai

1878 – An ambitious new beginning: the museum moves into its present building

The opening of the museum on the Sachsenhäuser Ufer marked a milestone. The building was specifically designed as a picture gallery. At this time other equally imposing public buildings were appearing in Frankfurt: the Opera House, the new stock exchange and the hotel “Frankfurter Hof”. The entrance to the Städel was flanked by monumental statues of the German Renaissance painters Hans Holbein the Younger and Albrecht Dürer. In the eyes of connoisseurs, there was a very special link between Frankfurt and Dürer, for a lock of his hair had been here for over 150 years, in the hands of various private owners – a modern relic handed down, since Dürer’s death, to a succession of artists and collectors.

“The Städelsche Galerie in Frankfurt, a private foundation that has since prospered and grown, sadly now banished to the very edge of the city and to an excessively grand palace.”

Jacob Burckhardt, historian of art and culture, on his visit to the museum
  • The museum building, designed by Oskar Sommer, seen from the garden
  • Friedrich Overbeck, The Triumph of Religion in the Arts, 1829–1840

Storms in the art world: discussions of principle about the purpose of painting

In 1829 the administration of the Städel-Institut commissioned from Johann Friedrich Overbeck the monumental programmatic painting “The Triumph of Religion in the Arts”. Over more than ten years, the painter took his time – but time, as we know, does not stand still. And so controversy broke out soon after the painting’s completion in 1840: the Protestants considered it too Catholic, while various innovators found it simply too Christian. In their view, art should either depict the nation’s history – as was being taught, for instance, at the academy in Düsseldorf – or it should be a comment on the present. A fierce dispute over these matters raged in the art world right across Germany. In Frankfurt the conflict caused Städel director Philipp Veit to resign from his post. Johann Friedrich Overbeck writes 1827 to the future director of the Städel, Johann David Passavant: “A Christian form of art must be fostered. It must be chaste, holy, humble.”

The early years

The early years

From the Rossmarkt to the town mansion of the Head Postmaster

The rooms of what had been Städel’s own home on the Rossmarkt soon became too cramped, and so, after major alterations and extensions had been carried out, the museum and art school moved 1833 the short distance to the former home of the Chief Postmaster of the Thurn und Taxis Post, Freiherr (Baron) von Vrints-Treuenfeld, in Neue Mainzer Strasse. The artworks were on the first floor, some of them in rooms with natural light from above, which was then a very modern concept. The teaching rooms and studios were on the ground floor.

  • Mary Ellen Best’s “View of the Early German Painting Hall” (1835) shows one exhibition room of the old Städel in Neue Mainzer Strasse.

“It is not merely for the curious that the Art Institute is to be opened, it is to be a solid and reliable guide for the disciple of art, and through the medium of this institute the spirit of art will exert its influence over the whole of Frankfurt …”

Eduard Beuermann, Frankfurter Bilder 1835
1815 – The Städel’s founding

1815 – The Städel’s founding

Johann Friedrich Städel becomes the first German private citizen to found an art museum

A year before his death, the Frankfurt banker and spice merchant Johann Friedrich Städel (1728–1816) bequeathed his house on the Rossmarkt in central Frankfurt, his art and book collection and his whole fortune to the foundation named after him. His will stipulates that the “Städelsches Kunstinstitut” shall from henceforth be accessible to the citizens of Frankfurt as a museum and art school (today's Städelschule). And – for all his personal modesty – he wants only the best for his institute: whatever is only of “moderate” quality in his collection of around 500 paintings shall be sold and replaced by “better” items.

  • The west side of the Rossmarkt in Frankfurt with Johann Friedrich Städel’s house at the centre (detail from a panorama by Lukas Joseph Böttcher, 1860, Historisches Museum Frankfurt. Photo: Horst Ziegenfusz)
  • First page of the deed of foundation of the Städelsches Kunstinstitut, 15 March 1815

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