in 1898, osthaus decided to found a natural science museum and commissioned the berlin government architect carl gérard designed a three-storey building in the neorenaissance style. in 1900, when the shell of the building with its historical facade had been constructed, osthaus realised that his approach was too conventional. in search of fresh inspiration, he discovered the belgian artist and designer henry van de velde (1863-1957). he developed a new interior design concept which his contemporaries regarded as positively revolutionary. he covered the iron pillars and girders with stucco, which gives the building an organic unity and a coherent overall feeling.
under van de velde`s influence, osthaus also changed the subject of his museum and turned his attention to contemporary art. his collection, which soon became world-renowned, included works by cézanne, van gogh, hodler, manet, matisse, renoir, rodin, rohlfs, seurat and signac. the folkwang museum was opened in the summer of 1902. the "knabenbrunnen" ("young boys`fontain") by george minne was installed in the fountain hall in 1906 (replaced by a replica in 1974). In 1912 the hagen city sculptress, milly steger, donated the sculptured female head above the main portal.
after osthaus`death, his heirs sold the folkwang collection to the city of essen in 1922. major reconstruction work in 1992 restored the essential elements of the lost interior design, so that the lively structure and atmospeheric spatial feeling of the museum`s unique architecture can be fully appreciated once again.
today`s collection at the karl ernst osthaus-museum includes works of classical modernism and contemporary art. various themes from the collections and exhibits set the programme: museum of museums, consciousness of history, natural relations, trivial machines, gender-specific art and museum history, and international contemporary non-figurative art.
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