The History of the Museum Kunstpalast

View on the old Kunstpalast
View on the old Kunstpalast

The Kunstmuseum and the Kunstpalast has been united in a foundation with the Opening of the Museum Kunstpalast in September 2001. The beginnings of the Collection of the Kunstmuseum is dated back in the early 18th century and is increased to more than 100.000 Paintings, Sculptures, Drawings, Graphics, Photographies, applied arts objects and glass.

The Beginnings of the Collection

Around 1710 the Elector Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz and his wife Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici founded a collection of paintings and an independent gallery building. In 1805 almost all paintings were taken to Munich as the personal property of the Wittelsbachs, the Bavarian royal family (today they are in the Alte Pinakothek).

Gesolei 1926, View on the new Kunstpalast and the Rheinterrasse
Gesolei 1926, View on the new Kunstpalast and the Rheinterrasse

Plans for a City of Düsseldorf Art Museum

In 1846 Düsseldorf burghers founded the Verein zur Gründung einer Gemäldegalerie in Düsseldorf, an association dedicated to re-erecting a picture gallery in the city. In 1898, a number of artists and leading personalities from industry took the initiative to organise the exhibition “Große Industrie-, Gewerbe- und Kunstausstellung”, a major exhibition of industry, trade and art, which subsequently took place in 1902 to mark the beginnings of Dusseldorf’s standing as a prime location for trade fairs and exhibitions. To house this show, the Kunstpalast (art palace) was constructed and handed over to the artists in charge. In 1926, when the “Gesolei” took place - an exhibition on health care, social care and physical exercise - the ensemble of new buildings, based on plans by Wilhelm Kreis, formed the Ehrenhof. In 1928 the municipal art collections - all paintings suitable for exhibition, plus the stocks of the Museum of Applied Arts and the Hetjens Museum - are accommodated in the west and north wings of the Ehrenhof and form the Kunstmuseum. The Academy collection is transferred to the Kunstmuseum in 1932.

The war and post-war recovery

In 1937 about 900 pieces were confiscated by the Nazis Hardly any exhibitions were held in this period, although in 1934 there was a so-called "Collective Exhibition of Works by German Artists". In 1938 the Nazi propaganda exhibition of "Degenerate Art" reached the Kunstpalast too; this takeover by ideology marked the definitive nadir of its evolution as a palace of the arts. In the first ten years after the war the museum acquired mainly Expressionist and realistic works. As early as 1946, the Robert Schumann Hall was built to seat 1200. 1948 the Kunstmuseum re-opens.

Troubles and a new Beginning

The importance of Düsseldorf as a city of art was growing; the Academy was increasingly attracting significant teachers, many of their students would go on to become artists of international standing. At the same time, though, the Kunstpalast was leading a totally art-less existence: The Nowea trade-fair company had moved into the buildingin 1958 and stayed there until 1976, by which time it was positively dilapidated.
From 1963 important private collections are added to the museum as donations or permanent loans, including the Hentrich and Barlach-Heuer glass collections, Dutch genre paintings from the Giradet legacy, scupltures from the Binder collection, medieval sculptures from the Schwartz collection, and the Koch collection of paintings and objects of the 1960s. In 1967 the collection of ceramics of Hetjens Museum is separated off from the Kunstmuseum. In 1977 the Restoration Department is given the status of an independent institute. Two years later the Kunstmuseum is closed on account of dilapidation, its collections are transferred to available buildings elsewhere in the city. In May 1985 the enlarged building of the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) was renovated and re-opened. major exhibitions were once again held in the Kunstpalast, for example the six "Treibhaus" ("Greenhouse") exhibitions conceived by Stephan von Wiese, which made a significant contribution to the careers of the "Neue Wilde". 1990 the museum is renamed as "Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof mit Sammlung Kunstakademie und Glasmuseum Hentrich" ("Düsseldorf Kunstmuseum in the Ehrenhof incorporating the Art Academy Collection and the Hentrich Glass Museum").

A fire in 1993, although not leading to the loss of artworks, results in extensive deposits of soot and in the closure of the exhibitions to the public, in 1994 the museum re-opens. Afterwards the institution re-opened in 2001 as the first public-private-partnership in Germany in the field of museums, the partners being the City of Düsseldorf, E.ON AG and the Kunstmuseum and the neighboring Kunstpalast merge and form museum kunst palast.


Built with private financing on the occasion of the Große Industrie-, Gewerbe- und Kunstausstellung, the Kunstpalast was bequeathed to Düsseldorf’s artists for their exhibitions. "Artibus" - "To the Arts" - reads the inscription on the façade. The Dusseldorf Kunstpalast, forming part of the Ehrenhof complex, is the city's oldest exhibition building. Its name - meaning "Art Palace" – reflects what it stands for. The Kunstpalast was modelled on the "Petit Palais" in Paris, although the Kunstpalast with its length of 132 metres exceeds it in size. Thus, it was a worthy representation of artistic life in the city of Dusseldorf, which has been among the most important centres of art in Germany since the early 19th century.

In 1924 planning started for a major trade fair for healthcare, social care and physical exercise. One of the exhibition halls built for the GeSoLei was designed as a permanent structure, the Ehrenhof. The plans stemmed from the hand of Wilhelm Kreis, then Head of the Architecture Class at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The Kunstpalast was complemented by the buildings of the later Kunstmuseum (art museum), the Reichsmuseum für Wirtschafts- und Gesellschaftskunde (museum for commercial and social studies, now NRW-Forum), a planetarium (today the Tonhalle) and the "Rheinterrassen".

For the new Museum Kunstpalast a competition for the new building of the Kunstpalast was won by a proposal submitted by renowned Cologne architect Oswald Mathias Ungers. Behind the historical façade, new exhibition halls thus arose, as did a multi-purpose auditorium, the Robert-Schumann-Saal.

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