David Christopher Mettlerkamp is a lieutenant colonel and roofer who makes lightning conductors. He is also an art collector and became the Hamburg’s Constitutive Assembly’s oldest member in 1848. This year he begins hosting weekly gatherings where Hamburg citizens come together to contemplate prints and drawings, both by old German masters and by contemporary artists, from their own collections. These regular meetings mark the beginning of the first art association organized and supported by ordinary citizens.
Since the number of those attending keeps increasing, the gatherings are moved to the shop of an art dealer named Harzen. On January 24, 1822 the group – which now consists of 19 people in all – passes its first charter, which states:
§1 The aim of the Kunstverein (art association) is to inform the public about fine art using a variety of means.
§2 For the time being, the Kunstverein will meet on Mondays. Meetings will begin at 7 p.m. and finish at 10 p.m.
§4 The subject and content of the next sitting will be decided at 8 p.m. at each sitting during this winter.
§5 Members may bring non-members to the meetings, but no more than three throughout the winter.
§6 Each member may only bring one non-member to any one meeting.
The art dealer Georg Ernst Harzen volunteers to lead the association. Almost all the charter’s signatories are art collectors and have developed both personal and business relationships after meeting through the Patriotische Gesellschaft (patriotic association).
The Kunstverein holds its first public exhibition between April 13 and May 18 in a house built by Alexis de Chateauneuf on the corner of ABC Strasse / Fuhlentwiete. There were 161 works on show including 39 copies of old masters and 20 works by amateur painters. Numerous Hamburg painters feature, including Louis Asher, Morgenstern, Siegfried Bendixen, Faber and Julius Milde. The exhibition features work by Johan Christian Dahl (Dresden), Friedrich Georg Kersting (Meißen), Ludwig Strack (Oldenburg) and Caspar David Friedrich with his paintings “Durchblick durch eine Ruine” (later known as “Huttens Grab - The Tomb of Ulrich von Hutten”) and “Ansicht des Eismeeres” (The Sea of Ice), which the Hamburg Kunsthalle added to its collections in 1905.
The show marks the beginning of systematically organized exhibitions in Hamburg, by means of which citizens gave artists the opportunity to publicly present and sell their works.
Unfortunately, the exhibition does not generate the expected response. Nevertheless, from then on similar exhibitions are held every two to three years. They increasingly also feature non-German artists and public response gradually becomes more enthusiastic. The exhibitions now bring in money, both for the participating artists and the Kunstverein.
As the Kunstverein does not have its own collection of paintings, the decision is made to purchase older works of art. The collection grows steadily thanks to endowments and donations. When the Harzen, Commeter, and Hudtwalcker collections are incorporated into those of the Kunstverein in 1863, it acquires Philipp Otto Runge’s work “Hülsenbecksche Kinder”.
The Kunstverein merges with the Gemälde-Verlossungs-Verein – a lottery association which offers paintings as prizes. Since this time, the joint official name of the association has been Kunstverein in Hamburg. The Kunstverein now has 467 members, 30 of which are women.
Influenced by the Bourgeois Revolution, the association modifies its charter. The new version specifies that anyone can become a member as long as they pay the 15 Mark Courant (roughly €50/US$70). Each member has right to a ticket for the painting lottery and free entry to the exhibitions. If members put an additional two Friedrichsd’or (roughly €12/US$17) towards the expansion of the collection, they are allowed to attend the advisory committee meetings, which take place once a week during the winter, and influence the workings of the association. This privilege is extended to all members, regardless of membership fee, with the establishment of the General Members Assembly in 1889.
The Kunstverein charter now also specifies that starting in this year the association will present a “permanent exhibition of art objects, which for the time being will be open three times a week, both to give the artists an opportunity to show their completed works and to present other interesting developments in the field of art…to members.”
The permanent art exhibition is a sales exhibition with sold works being replaced by new ones every Saturday.
Christian Petersen, Professor of Classical Philology at the Akademisches Gymnasium, becomes the first chairman of the Kunstverein. He held this office for the next 22 years.
The Kunstverein opens a city gallery in den Börsenarkaden to present its collection (the permanent exhibition was held there from 1852). The building was provided courtesy of the City of Hamburg. The accompanying catalogue lists 40 paintings, including 27 works from the estate of Hartwig Hesse. The permanent art exhibition is made accessible to the general public as well as members.
A reading room where members can peruse English, French and German art journals is established and, over the decades, this grows into an extensive art library. In 1891, the Kunstverein donates the library to the Hamburg Kunsthalle along with its collection of copperplate engravings.
The Hamburg Kunsthalle is opened and the steadily expanding Kunstverein City Art Gallery forms the basis of the collection.
The Kunstverein stages its first solo exhibition in honor of Peter Cornelius.
A travelling exhibition by the Norddeutsche Kunstvereinverbund (Association of north German Art Societies) is a tremendous success. It attracts 30,000 visitors and makes over 10,000 Prussian thalers through the sale of 137 works.
The Kunstverein appoints its first managing director.
Adolph Menzel exhibition in collaboration with the Kunsthalle.
Exhibition featuring artists from the Worpswede group, including Fritz Mackensen, Otto Modersohn, and Heinrich Vogeler.
Exhibition of works by Arnold Böcklin, Giovanni Segantini, and Hans Thoma.
The Kunstverein moves into a new exhibition space at Neuer Wall 14, where it holds changing exhibitions presenting work from influential art movements in Germany and abroad in addition to its permanent collection until 1915.
Major exhibition of work by contemporary Dutch and Belgian artists.
Large retrospective of Hermann Kauffmann’s work to mark the 100th anniversary of his death.
The Kunstverein moves back to its former premises at the Kunsthalle.
The Kunstverein organizes a show entitled "2Französische Malerei bis 1914" (French Painting before 1914), which features works by celebrated French artists including Bonnard, Cézanne, Courbet, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir, Seurat, and Signac.
The Kunstverein moves into the new Kunsthalle building.
On April 1, the Kunstverein opens the first exhibition of the Deutscher Künstlerbund (Association of German Artists) in the rooms of the Kunsthalle at Glockengiesserwall.
The Kunstverein has about 1,000 members. Over the course of the Great Depression and the period of hyperinflation in Germany, membership drops so dramatically that the Kunstverein only survives thanks to the commitment of leading patrons of the arts.
The large international exhibition "Europäische Kunst der Gegenwart" (Contemporary European Art) is a huge success, attracting 40,000 visitors.
The Kunstverein inaugurates its new premises at Neue Rabenstrasse 25 with an extensive show of local artists: "Kunst der letzten 30 Jahre aus Hamburger Privatbesitz" (Art from the past 30 Years from Private Collections in Hamburg). Dr Hildebrand Gurlitt acts as managing director and curator.
The Kunstverein’s director and board members are forced to resign. Gurlitt is replaced by Krogmann, the mayor appointed by the Nazis. On March 30, the Hamburg Secession’s twelfth exhibition is closed and, shortly afterwards, the organization is forced to disband shortly afterwards. The Hamburg Secession was established by a group of artists in 1919 and had held annual exhibitions at the Kunstverein.
The exhibition "Malerei und Plastik in Deutschland 1936" (Painting and Sculpture in Germany 1936) featuring work by artists such as Ernst Barlach, Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, Lyonel Feininger, Hermann Glöckner, Erich Heckel, Alexey von Jawlensky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Edvard Munch, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Emil Nolde, Oskar Schlemmer, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and Heinrich Stegemann, is closed on orders from Berlin. The building on Neue Rabenstrasse is expropriated.
The building on Neue Rabenstrasse is sold in a forced auction and the Kunstverein moves back into the Kunsthalle.
On October 27, the pre-1933 charter is reinstated. The Kunstverein accounts are still blocked and, as the Kunsthalle is still occupied, the Kunstverein has no exhibition facilities.
The Kunstverein starts work again with an exhibition on Hamburg artists. The new Kunsthalle Director, Carl Georg Heise, is elected to the board.
On May 3, the Kunstverein inaugurates its new building next to the Kunsthalle at Ferdinandstor with the opening of the exhibition "Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Seurat – Wegbereiter der modernen Kunst" (Cézanne, Gauguin, van Gogh, Seurat –Pioneers of Modern Art). Hans Platte serves as the Kunstverein’s first artistic director. With his exhibitions, Hans Platte re-introduced classical modernism, in all its variety, to Hamburg. He devoted comprehensive retrospective exhibitions to figures such as Franz Marc, Lyonel Feininger (1964), Max Beckmann (1965), Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1969), and Matisse and his friends (1966). At a relatively early date he presented Italian futurism and Pittura metafisica (1963), the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit, 1968), and surrealist painting (1969). The Ströher Collection of American Pop Art and a large group of works by Beuys were presented at guest exhibitions at the Kunstverein in 1968.
The Kunstverein has approximately 4,000 members throughout the 1960s.
In April Manfred de la Motte, the former director of the Kunstverein Hannover, takes over as the Kunstverein in Hamburg’s artistic director; his contract is terminated at the end of the same year as a result of internal disputes.
Uwe M. Schneede becomes the artistic director of the Kunstverein. He also devoted himself to classical modernism with exhibitions featuring artists like Edvard Munch (1984), Oskar Schlemmer (1977), René Magritte and Belgian Surrealism (1982), Frida Kahlo and Tina Modotti (1982), or Art in America 1920-1940. He often presented contemporary art in survey exhibitions: Pop Art in England (1976), Myth and Ritual in the Art of the 1970s (1981), Collecting Evidence ("Spurensicherung," 1974), Images of Death in Contemporary Art ("Todesbilder in der zeitgenössischen Kunst," 1983), Hermit? Researcher? Social Worker? ("Eremit? Forscher? Sozialarbeiter?", 1979), Staged Spaces ("Inszenierte Räume," 1979), Artists’ Spaces at the Kunstverein and Elsewhere ("Künstlerräume im Kunstverein und anderswo," 1984). He also presented individual artists such as Peter Blake, Dieter Roth, and Richard Artschwager. His presentations of art from the German Democratic Republic (Willi Sitte, 1975; Wolfgang Mattheuer, 1978; Zeitvergleich, 1983) sometimes met with sharp criticism from the conservative press of the day.
The artist and art historian Karl-Egon Vester becomes director of the Kunstverein. Among the exhibitions he organizes is a show of work by Andy Warhol in 1987.
When Vester dies, he is succeeded by Jürgen Schweinebraden Freiherr von Wichmann-Eichhorn.
Stephan Schmidt-Wulffen takes over as the Kunstverein’s new director. A year later the Kunstverein moves to its new premises in the converted indoor market at Klosterwall 23, which it still occupies today. Among the exhibitions during Schmidt-Wulffen’s time as director are the uncovering of a 1972 mural by Blinky Palermo in 1992; "Gegendarstellung: Ethik und Ästhetik im Zeitalter von Aids" (Counterstatement: Ethics and Aesthetics in the Age of Aids) in 1992; General Idea – “Fin de siècle” in 1992; "Backstage" in 1993; Olafur Eliasson in 1995; Hans Arp/Franz West in 1996; Liam Gillick in 1998 and Archigram in 1997.
Yilmaz Dziewior is appointed director of the Kunstverein. Among the exhibitions he presents are: Cosima von Bonin in 2001; "Contextualize – Zusammenhänge herstellen" in 2002; Zhang Huan in 2003; Andrea Fraser in 2003; "Formalismus. Moderne Kunst, heute" (Formalism – Modern Art Today) in 2004; Sarah Lucas in 2005; Tino Sehgal in 2007 and "Wessen Geschichte" (Whose History) in 2008
Florian Waldvogel becomes the Kunstverein’s new director.
We are contstantly working to extend the historical information about the Kunstverein. Especially the younger exhibition and reception history since 1973 is incomplete and needs further research. Please understand that this work will takes quite a lot of time.
Hans Platte, 150 Jahre Kunstverein in Hamburg, 1817 – 1967, Schriften des Kunstvereins in Hamburg, 1967
Marina und Uwe M. Schneede, Zur frühen Geschichte des Kunstvereins, 1984