The Karlsruhe Kupferstichkabinett ranks as one of the oldest ongoing collections of works on paper still in existence, not just in Germany, but in Europe. The cornerstone of the collection, which now spans some 100,000 sheets, was successively laid by the margraves and later grand dukes of Baden. Very early on, two distinct areas emerged in the collection. The first: drawings and prints by German masters of the late medieval and early Renaissance periods, especially those active in the Upper Rhine (including: Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Matthias Grünewald, and Hans Baldung Grien), along with a group of approx. 1100 Upper-Rhenish cartoons and designs for stained glass. The other: etchings of the Baroque period from various European schools, by artists such as Jacques Callot, Wenzel Hollar, and Stefano della Bella. This collection was later enriched by many extensive series of works by the great etchers of the 18th century, such as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Jean Jacques de Boissieu, as well as by a representative selection of works by English mezzotint engravers.
The collection was significantly expanded in the 19th century. The Grand Dukes Leopold and Friedrich aimed to turn Karlsruhe, their royal capital, into a centre for the arts, whose reach would extend far beyond Baden. To help them in this endeavour, they founded the Kunsthalle in 1837 and the Kunstschule (academy) in 1854. Extensive holdings of drawings by artists who were active in Karlsruhe for at least part of their careers reflect the success of the grand dukes’ endeavour. The department owns more than 8,400 separate sheets and some 127 sketchbooks by artists such as Johann Wilhelm Schirmer, Anselm Feuerbach, Hans Thoma, Ferdinand and Gustav Kampmann. During the 19th century, collecting activities continued to focus on ‘home-grown’ talent from Baden.
After World War II, the focus shifted further afield, towards art movements of international importance. State acquisitions and private donations led to new core additions, including a group of sheets by artists variously affiliated with Die Brücke (drawings and prints, especially by Erst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel), the New Objectivity, in all its many forms (Otto Dix, Georg Scholz, Karl Hubbuch), as well as prints by high-modernist artists from France. Thanks to lottery funding for the arts, a highly valuable collection of French drawings also found its way into the Kupferstichkabinet, with works ranging from Claude Lorrain to Fernand Léger and including some exquisite sheets by Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Edgar Degas. Today’s collecting and exhibition activities primarily concentrate on contemporary art, specifically that in the German-speaking world.
The study and display room, painted by Moritz von Schwind and with its old display cabinets, is now located in the Kunsthalle’s original building which opened in 1846. A noteworthy work from the Kupferstichkabinett’s collection is placed on view here, each time for a period of three months, in a small showing called Das besondere Blatt/‘The Special Sheet’. Further details are also available on this website.
In addition, every Wednesday from 2 to 5 p.m., visitors have the chance to view graphic works of their choosing from our extensive collection. Separate viewings are also available by appointment.