Dedicated citizens of Leipzig paved the way to a municipal painting collection, lending it the striking profile of a civic art collection. The works discussed here represent just a few highlights in a portfolio of paintings that, in its entirety, creates an individual picture of 600 years in the development of European art. Since 1837, valuable endowments above all rapidly augmented the collection until it grew to over 3,000 paintings. But sales at the start of the 1920ies, the action “degenerate art” in 1937 and losses in the Second World War severely damaged this portfolio in ways that could not be compensated during the GDR era.
Structured initially to represent only contemporary art, works by artists from previous centuries were added to the still-nascent collection from 1847 onwards. Since then, work by 17th-century Dutch artists, which were particularly popular among private art collectors in Leipzig, have formed the focal point of the Old Masters Painting Collection. Numbering almost 400 paintings, the significance of this portfolio lies above all in the unity and wealth of characteristic works by artists who ranked among the specialists in their field, in addition to masterpieces by other famous painters. The intimate everyday depictions, the fascinating portraits, landscapes, architectural paintings and still lives frequently combine detailed, representative portrayals with the deep-lying embers of symbolism. In contrast, sparse works only provide an outline of Flemish painting, which was never a central point of the Leipzig collections. But the precious works do also include roughly 60 painting by Old German and Old Dutch artists from the 15th and 16thcenturies with outstanding individual pieces and the unique collection of 18 works by the two Lucas Cranachs.
In the depictions of religious topics, the portfolio traces the transformation from the late medieval perception of form to the intellectual world of the Renaissance and humanism. Portraits, nudes and landscape sections reflect the new relationship with human beings and their environment. Compared with the regal collections, art from Romance countries assumes a markedly subordinate role in Leipzig, numbering around 100 paintings by mainly Italian and rare French and Spanish masters from the 15th to 18th centuries. Small-format works with a Christian theme, used for private devotion, dominate. Nevertheless, they succeed in outlining the diverse visual identity of Italian art through a manifold prevalence of local art schools in the economically and politically determinant city states and regions. A small portfolio of works represents 17th and 18th-century art, characterised by portrait painting. The development from regal, representative portrayals to bourgeois character portraits lucidly documents the intellectual and social upheavals in the age of Enlightenment and the French Revolution. The portrait gallery of Leipzig Master Merchants, loaned by the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in Leipzig, is therefore particularly noteworthy.
A signature feature of the painting collection by New Masters is represented in the approx. 750 artworks from the 19th century, whose metamorphosal development between Classicism / Romanticism and Impressionism / Symbolism in Germany above all can be traced most vividly. The portfolio provides a coherent impression of the most important art centres and schools, including Munich, Düsseldorf, Berlin and Dresden, as well as the local development in Leipzig. Additionally, it is impressive that we find exemplary collections by the most prominent art figures in addition to the very familiar artworks. Two private endowments gifted Leipzig a special collection of French painting, practically unique among German museums, including renowned representatives of art from around 1800 and also creators of intimate natural and landscape portrayals from the Barbizon School. Whereas the artistic development in Saxony, vacillating between the pivotal figure of symbolism, Max Klinger, and veristic works of social criticism, dominate the portfolio of art from the first half of the 20th century, Classic Modernist art is only present in a few characteristic works, belonging primarily to Expressionism and New Objectivity. Generous lenders must also be thanked for the establishment of a prestigious Max Beckmann Hall.
Artists from the GDR are represented in over 500 works, whereby, in addition to art from Berlin, Dresden and Halle, local painting from Leipzig forms the actual epicentre, despite some disproportion in the broad stylistic and topical width. In contrast, individual works (often loans) insufficiently illuminate art created in West Germany since 1945. All the more, recent purchases, generous endowments and loans from private collectors are focused on reconnecting with today’s art in work by the younger generation of artists, created since the 1990ies.