Experiencing art, making new discoveries, coming together, learning: the Städel Museum is a place of encounter, exchange and the exploration of our past, present and future.
It collects, preserves and studies works spanning 700 years of art and teaches the public about them. With its programme and digital offers, it provides unique access to art across generations, epochs and styles—quite in keeping with the vision of its founder Johann Friedrich Städel. It is a space that stimulates our senses and puts us in touch with important questions. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Art has inspiring answers to offer. The Städel Museum is a private foundation sustained to this day by the generous support of citizens, foundations and business enterprises of the city and region.
As stipulated by the banker and businessman Johann Friedrich Städel in his will, the Städel Museum was established in 1815 as a civic foundation. Thanks to the founder’s dedication and avid collecting activities, we can today offer our visitors a virtually complete overview of 700 years of art—from the early fourteenth century to the Renaissance, from the Baroque to Classical Modernism and the very present.
Among the collection highlights are works by such artists as Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer, Sandro Botticelli, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Vermeer, Maria Sibylla Merian, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Max Beckmann, Lotte Laserstein, Francis Bacon, Louise Bourgeois, Gerhard Richter and Wolfgang Tillmans. Take an inspiring stroll through the centuries and discover your own personal favourite.
In his foundation deed, Johann Friedrich Städel specified that his
He thus entrusted us with the task of making the works in the collection accessible to the public. Apart from preserving the collection, it is incumbent on us to study and expand it and, naturally, to develop exhibitions.
We work to accomplish this mission by offering a programme of events and activities our visitors can take advantage of on site at the Städel as well as online. Our aim is to enable wide-ranging experiences of art and its history. That makes the Städel Museum far more than just a place. It is an invitation that opens up new vistas, sharpens the senses and provides enjoyment.
Johann Friedrich Städel was born in Frankfurt am Main in 1728. His father Johann Daniel Städel had come to Frankfurt from Strasbourg to engage in trade. Johann Friedrich followed suit, initially carrying on the paternal spice business on Grosser Kornmarkt before opening his own on Rossmarkt in 1784, at the age of fifty-six. In addition to spices and coffee, he sold pigments such as indigo and metals such as lead bar. As time went on, he also became active in commission and banking transactions that ultimately paved his way to wealth.
Städel had a keen interest in art. As far back as the 1760s, he had begun filling his house with paintings, drawings, prints and small-scale sculptures, most of which he purchased on his numerous travels. Whereas in painting he concentrated on the German and Dutch Baroque, his pursuits in the area of prints and drawings were far broader: he set out to amass a comprehensive overview of the history of art. Already early on, he planned to give the public access to his art holdings and to train and foster budding artists.
In his living quarters he hosted art shows and gave private guided tours to interested individuals. Johann Friedrich Städel died in Frankfurt am Main in 1816. The final version of his will, written on 15 March 1815, contains a foundation deed. That document laid the cornerstone for the Städelsches Kunstinstitut—the original name of the museum now known the world over as the Städel Museum.
1815 – A museum is founded
In 1815, photography, the typewriter and the bicycle had yet to be invented. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote a poem about the ginkgo leaf as a symbol of love and friendship, and in Frankfurt’s botanical gardens, the Palmengarten, a copper beech was planted that still grows there today. It was also in that year that the banker and spice merchant Johann Friedrich Städel of Frankfurt bequeathed his centrally located house on Rossmarkt, his art and book collection and his entire fortune to the foundation bearing his name. In his will he stipulated that, with immediate effect, the “Städelsches Kunstinstitut” be open to the people of Frankfurt as a museum and art school—the present-day Städelschule. For his art institute he wanted only the best: the “mediocre” works in his collection of some 500 paintings were to be sold off to raise funds for “better” ones.
The museum moves into its present-day building
Städel’s residential quarters in the building on Rossmarkt were soon overflowing with art. After an interim lodging in the palace of chief Thurn und Taxis postmaster Freiherr von Vrints-Treuenfeld in Neue Mainzer Strasse, the Städel collection received a home of its own—a museum building constructed on the Sachsenhausen bank of the Main according to plans by the architect Oskar Sommer. Other prestigious public edifices in Frankfurt, for example the opera house, the new stock exchange and the Frankfurter Hof hotel, also date from this period.
Selected purchases made in the nineteenth century
Frankfurt is a booming modern city
Within decades, Frankfurt’s population grew fourfold; in the same period its municipal institutions and private foundations and associations likewise expanded and thrived. The Städel benefited from this public and private dedication: the Städelscher Museums-Verein was founded in 1899 as an expression of communal civic art patronage, and from 1907 onwards the city financed a Städtische Galerie für Moderne Kunst (Municipal Gallery of Modern Art) within the private Städel foundation.
Even as it pursued a wide-ranging modernization effort, the city on the Main sought to emphasize its historical and cultural significance for the region and for the republic. Inspired by the idea of educating the public, 1920s Frankfurt saw the emergence of a movement to regard all municipal and private museum collections as a “vibrant cultural factor”. From 1922 onwards this endeavour was under the central oversight of Städel director Georg Swarzenski.
Under National Socialism
As elsewhere, the National Socialist accession to power brought about far-reaching changes in Frankfurt’s cultural institutions. At the Städel, staffing policy, exhibitions and above all new acquisitions came increasingly under Nazi control, though the museum did risk the occasional departure from the regime’s cultural policy dictates. In 1937 the “Degenerate Art” campaign led to substantial losses in the Modern Art department: 77 paintings were labelled “degenerate” and confiscated. A large share of the collection was placed in external storage in 1939 to protect it from the ravages of war. The building closed in 1943; the following year it was struck by bombs.
The Städel reopens
After the war, the order of the day at the Städel was to retrieve its works from external storage locations, return unlawfully acquired works to their rightful owners and reconstruct the partially destroyed building. The architect Johannes Krahns designed two new corner wings for the façade, and on 9 November 1963 the big day finally arrived: after nearly twenty years, the people of Frankfurt had their Städel back.
Selected purchases made in the twentieth century
At the heart of the Museum Embankment
Two decades later, Frankfurt discovered the value of the Main and its banks as a cultural lifeline: the “Museumsufer” (Museum Embankment) project was realized in 1984. Under the motto “Culture for all”, existing collections were presented in fresh ways and new institutions sprouted up along the riverfront. A new wing of the Städel designed by the architect Gustav Peichl now featured parts of the modern and contemporary holdings while also, for the first time, providing space for special exhibitions. Frankfurt’s Museumsufer is today among the most important museum locations in Germany.
The Städel grows and grows
Entirely in accordance with the wishes of its founder Johann Friedrich Städel, the Städel Museum continued to develop its art holdings in terms of quality and quantity alike. Within just a few years, for example, it acquired more than 1,000 works of contemporary art. Other significant new additions came from the Deutsche Bank and DZ Bank corporate collections and by way of purchases and major gifts from private persons and artists. In order to present its contemporary holdings in a befitting manner, all the Städel needed now was more space.
The Gartenhallen (Garden Halls) for the contemporary collection opened in 2012. Designed by the schneider+schumacher architectural firm, the new wing provided an additional 3,000 square metres of exhibition area, allowing the museum to double the size of its contemporary art display. Thanks to unparalleled support from business enterprises, foundations and countless individuals, half of the funds for the 52-million-euro project came from private contributions, the other half from public sources.
When he wrote his will in 1815, Johann Friedrich Städel laid the groundwork for Germany’s oldest museum foundation. In 2015, joined by the people of Frankfurt, the Städel Museum celebrated its bicentennial with several superb exhibitions and projects. The anniversary also marked the beginning of the Digital Expansion: to this day, the Städel has continued to develop digital offers to enhance the museum visit in entertaining and technically innovative ways at no extra cost. The Städel Museum is thus fulfilling its educational mission—to make art accessible to all—far beyond the boundaries of its physical premises.
Looking back on a past firmly anchored in the history of Frankfurt, the Städel carries its founder’s vision—to make the museum accessible to one and all—into the present. Over the past years it has realized groundbreaking exhibitions and research projects, its collection has been enriched by prominent new purchases, gifts and bequests, and it has continually offered an up-to-date programme of events and activities for all visitor groups.
The museum has also invested in structural measures to ensure its sustainable operability on all levels: the historical Main River façade has been restored, the Department of Prints and Drawings—complete with its Study Hall—refurbished, the Städel garden newly landscaped and planted, the Old Masters and Modern galleries decorated with a new colour scheme and equipped with a low-energy LED lighting system. We have the great dedication of private and public supporters to thank for these many enhancements. It is they who make the Städel Museum one of Germany’s most successful art museums.
Dr. Philipp Demandt
Prof. Dr. Jochen Sander, Vice Director for Scholarly Affairs
Heinz-Jürgen Bokler, Vice Director for Commercial and Personnel Affairs