The Kunsthalle’s History

Far older than the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe’s actual building is the collection it holds. It dates back to the dynasty of the margraves of Baden.

From patrons to collectors

One of Christopher I’s great-grandsons, Margrave Frederick V of Baden-Durlach, was an avid collector predominantly of exquisite prints and drawings. In Strasbourg he acquired the sketchbook of Hans Baldung Grien and a large collection of drawings. Among Frederick V’s many acquisitions was the largest collection in the world of cartoons and design drawings for stained and painted glass windows, around 420 prints by Dutch Mannerists, some 100 sheets by Hendrick Goltzius, around 150 engravings after Peter Paul Rubens and Anthonis van Dyck and more than 1500 works in all by contemporary artists of his day. His son, Frederick VI of Baden-Durlach, also dedicated himself to acquiring works in the graphic medium.

At the outbreak of the Nine Years’ War in 1688, his successor, Frederick VII Magnus, saved the collection from destruction by having it removed from the Karlsburg in Durlach and taken to Basel for safekeeping. By this time, the collection’s inventory listed more than 700 paintings, including Jan van Hemes­sen’s “Loose Company” and Hans Burgkmair’s portrait of Sebastian Brant, scholar and author of the “Narrenschiff” or “Ship of Fools”. Margrave Hermann of Baden-Baden grew into a passionate connoisseur of art, who left an indelible mark on the character of today’s collection at the Staat­liche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe. Hermann initially fought against the troops of Louis XIV and was later active as a diplomatic emissary.

Around 20 works, now held at the Kunsthalle, date from the private collection of Hermann, the imperial field marshal who surrounded himself with pictures by living artists of his day. The Kunsthalle has his appreciation of art to thank for many canvases now in the collection, including Jacob Jordaens’ large-scale painting Moses Striking the Rock.

The Margravine Caroline Louise

The most important and fruitful period in the formation of the margraves’ collection was shaped not by a man, but a woman, who married into the Durlach line in 1751. Her name was Caroline Louise, Princess of Hessen-Darmstadt, and she married Margrave Charles Frederick (Karl Friedrich) at age 28. His grandfather Karl Wilhelm had founded the city of Karlsruhe and started construction on his new palace in 1715.

A talented and well-educated woman, Caroline Louise forged and maintained ties with numerous writers and thinkers of her day. The margravine predominantly collected works by fijnschilders or ‘fine painters’ whose works tended to be intimate in scale and subject. Dutch realism appealed to her tastes more than the grand gestures typical of Baroque art or the florid court art of the Rococo. She sent her advisors forth in search of works that were to be ‘très finis’.

She favoured above all Flemish works from the 17th century and French painting by living artists and these kinds of works found their way into her ‘cabinet of art’, or Kunstkabinett. In 1759, she commissioned two pastoral shepherd scenes from François Boucher, while acquiring five paintings from Jean Baptiste Chardin, of which four still lifes can still be found in the Kunsthalle’s collection.

Directors of the Kunsthalle

1829 – 1858: Carl Ludwig Frommel
1858 – 1880: Carl Friedrich Lessing
1880 – 1893: Wilhelm Lübke
1899 – 1920: Hans Thoma
1920 – 1927: Willy Storck
1927 – 1933: Lilli Fischel (kommissarisch)
1933 – 1934: Hans Adolf Bühle
1934 – 1956: Kurt Martin
1956 – 1973: Jan Lauts
1973 – 1995: Horst Vey
1995 – 2009: Klaus Schrenk
since 2009: Pia Müller-Tamm