Chemnitz, modern city – Taking care of art collections
The art museum of the city of Chemnitz is an institution whose foundation dates back to the second half of the nineteenth century. In the commercially rising city a middle class developed which had not only commercial but also aesthetic interests. Works of art were needed for the newly constructed villas – works that were decorative and which reinforced social standing. Countless artists moved to the city hoping to obtain commissions. At the same time substantial construction activity developed, which led over the years to the establishment in Chemnitz of Germany’s largest Founder Era and Art Nouveau suburb that is still in one piece. Whole streets lined with stately houses containing elegant, large apartments came into being. Even today, the “Kaßberg Quarter” is one of the attractions of Chemnitz.
Herbert Esche, a descendant of the successful family of stocking manufacturers in Saxony in the 17th century – they also introduced the first industrial stocking-making machine invented in Great Britain – had its first house in the Kaßberg Quarter before they had a villa built by Henry van de Velde. Today, the building, which was built in 1903, is one of the incunabula of architectural history while being a link between the Art Nouveau and Bauhaus styles. In those days, Henry van de Velde was the director of the School of Handicrafts in Weimar, the predecessor institute of the Bauhaus. The villa, commissioned by Herbert Esche and built by Henry van de Velde, is remarkable for its comparison with the richly ornamented and – inside – heavily-decorated Founder Era villas by its simple functionality. The same can be said of the dimensions of the rooms today as well, which are still pleasant, less representative and more oriented to the people living in them. Henry van de Velde created not only the architecture; rather he is responsible for all the interior decorations such as the furniture, carpets, wall coverings, cutlery, table silver, letter-openers, pipes and other objects up to and including visiting cards. He also designed decorations and clothing for the lady of the house.
Henry van de Velde was also suggested by the entrepreneur Esche to the painter Edvard Munch, who, although already well-known in artistic circles, was also still very controversial. Thus it was that the artist – today world-famous – spent several weeks in Chemnitz in 1905 painting the children and other members of the Esche family. Herbert Esche and his wife Hanni also collected works of artists – also famous today – such as Vincent van Gogh.
Another entrepreneur family also became prominent because of its social involvement and patronage of the arts. It is due to this family that the only preserved giant portrait by Max Klinger is now in the Chemnitz Town Hall. The portrait is 14 metres wide and four metres high. The Chemnitz Art Collections displayed 28 preserved sketches and all the exhibits of the museum on the occasion of the 150th birthday of the artist Max Klinger, so that all 150 of the artist’s works in the Chemnitz Art Collections could be displayed in public for the first time.
Almost all works are due to the patronage of the Vogel family. This generous attitude still has tradition today. The granddaughter of the family, Mrs Erdmute Ostmann-von Dewitz, donated one portrait each of her ancestors painted by artists such as Max Slevogt and Franz von Stuck as recently as 1997. In order to obtain works by significant artists today, people depended not only on imports from outside. The Kirchner family lived in Chemnitz from 1890. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s father had a position as director at the Haubold company. The artist himself grew up in the city and spent eleven years of his life in Chemnitz. Together with the artist Karl Schmidt-Rottluff – who was born in the Chemnitz suburb of Rottluff – and Erich Heckel, they all attended schools in Chemnitz and in 1905 formed the artists’ group “Brücke” (“Bridge”) in Dresden. As well, Minna Tube, Max Beckmann’s first wife, sang works by Richard Wagner at the Chemnitz Opera House and Max Beckmann created the“Theaterloge” set.
The Chemnitz Art Collections possess a comprehensive number of works by the sculptor Richard Scheibe, who was also born in Chemnitz. Scheibe created such works as the Friedrich Ebert Monument at the Church of St Paul in Frankfurt am Main.
One of Chemnitz’ extraordinary protected buildings is the only building – still in its original condition – by Erich Mendelsohn left in Germany. It follows the street in a slight curve and, like the Villa Esche, is a unique architectural monument.
While the Schocken family commissioned the architect Mendelsohn, the entrepreneur Göritz had a company head office designed by Hans Poelzig. Göritz also donated 1,200 newspaper lithographs by Honoré Daumier, one of the major collections of the artists in this technique outside France, to the Chemnitz Art Collections.
So many significant buildings were built between 1860 and 1930 that the Dutch artist Jan Dibbets commented on the occasion of his exhibition in 1997 that Chemnitz was an out-and-out architectural museum in that period. In this context, top-class architecture also includes buildings by city engineer Fred Otto. The 50 metre public swimming pool and the building built as the savings bank at Falkeplatz were constructed between 1929 and 1930.
The Munich Gunzenhauser collection is currently undergoing a conversion. The officially protected façade was preserved and the Berlin architect Volker Staab was commissioned to alter the interior design of the museum inside. The new museum, which has been assigned to the Chemnitz Art Collections, will be inaugurated by the German President Horst Köhler on 1 December 2007.
Chemnitz’ commercial and art patrons’ strength in the early 20th century, with its countless witnesses to Classical Modernity, can be seen especially at the Theaterplatz with the museum and theatre building by Richard Möbius, who also created Chemnitz’ new Town Hall.
The representative Theaterplatz with the museum and opera house from the year 1909, the Church of St Peter dating back to 1888 and the Chemnitz Court from 1930 form an aristocratic looking three-winged building. Historicism and Bauhaus do not cancel each other out but instead combine to form a magnificent integrated cityscape.