Feuerwerk auf der Elbe am 6. Juni 1709
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

300 Years of the Kupferstich-Kabinett 1720-2020

In 2020, the Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett (Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs) will be celebrating its 300th anniversary as the oldest publicly accessible specialist collection for art on paper in the German-speaking countries. Since 1720, this institution has collected not only engravings (as suggested by its name) but also drawings, watercolours, etchings and other graphic works, and, since the late 19th century, also photographs. Illustrated books and posters are likewise included in the collection. Like most of the museums that make up the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, the Kupferstich-Kabinett is derived from court Kunstkam­mer (Art Chamber) established by Elector August (1526-1586), which was divided into separate museums over the course of the early 18th century.

[Translate to English:] Von Beginn an

Intended from the outset as a universal collection, the Kupferstich-Kabinett has always been open to works from all periods and countries, and it has been constantly expanded with that in mind. Those responsible for the collection have always remained attentive to the art being produced by their contemporaries and have often showed particular foresight in their acquisitions. Many of the works that were contemporary and still unknown at the time of their acquisition are now among the most treasured items and are held in equal esteem with works that entered the collection as masterpieces. Examples include early etchings by the then little- known Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720– 1778), which were purchased in the 18th century. Another example of works acquired directly from the artist are those by Adrian Zingg (1734–1816). In the late 19th century, the museum’s Director, Max Lehrs (1855–1938), also directly promoted artists such as Max Klinger (1857–1920) and Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945). On the art market, Lehrs acquired contemporary French prints, including numerous works by Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec (1864-1901). This openness to contemporary art continues to characterise the collection today and forms the basis of the Kupferstich-Kabinett’s self-image as an institution that is not only dedicated to preserving the past but is also committed to the present day.

Lächelnde Frau sitzt mit gespreizten Beinen, im Hintergrund festlich Gekleidete
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Elles. La Clownesse assise (Mademoiselle Cha-U-Ka-O), 1896 Lithographie in 5 Farben

[Translate to English:] Heute nimmt

Thanks to the high quality and abundance of more than half a million works of art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, the Kupferstich-Kabinett now occupies an outstanding position internationally. Nevertheless, the collection is often hidden from the public. This is because works on paper, in particular, require special protection; due to their extreme sensitivity to light, and their fragility, they can only leave the safety of the museum storeroom from time to time. On the other hand, the advantage is that paper is not difficult to transport, making it easier for works to enter into dialogue and be presented in new contexts.

300 Years at the Dresden Kupferstich-Kabinett

300 Years Keeping in the Present

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Plakat: Divan Japonais
© Kupferstich-Kabinett, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Herbert Boswank

[Translate to English:] Die erste Ausstellung

The first exhibition in the anniversary year has the programmatic title »Sammeln in der Gegenwart« (Collecting in the Present). It will consider art from the point of view of its acquisition history and contemporary developments in each respective period. In its early days, the Kupferstich-Kabinett was a universal archive of visual ideas and a place of pictorial documentation, serving the needs of the court. At first, the function of the newly founded specialist museum differed little from that of the collections of prints held in the Electoral Kunstkammer. In the 18th century, it was mostly reproduction prints of paintings and sculptures that were collected, thus enabling the dissemination of knowledge about art and the world, while requiring only a small space. Printing, however, was also used time and again to record important historical events in pictures: for example, the series of engravings depicting the planetary festivals held by August the Strong as part of the wedding celebrations for his son and Maria Josepha, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1719, was intended as a means of demonstrating the Saxon ruler’s power and projecting his self-image.

© Kupferstich-Kabinett, SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
Charlotte Rudolph, Gret Palucca - Mit doppeltem Schatten, 1925 Silbergelatinepapier, retuschiert, 191 x 171 mm

[Translate to English:] In diesem Zusammenhang

The same applies to works by court artists such as Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), whose large-format etched city views were intended to make the splendour of Dresden famous all over the world. Here, too, specimen copies were retained for the collection. Other works entered the Kupferstich-Kabinett as gifts from friendly princes or were donated by artists.

[Translate to English:] Das Jubiläum

The anniversary is an opportunity to review the past: the collection reflects not only the vagaries of history in times of war and peace, as well as the various social and political systems, but also aspects of art history, shaped by numerous generations of researchers, collectors, restorers and visitors. At the same time, however, the anniversary also provides the chance to look to the future and to stimulate public awareness of the Kupferstich-Kabinett and its almost inexhaustible holdings as a living, innovative and democratic institution – as a place animated by 300 years of creativity and knowledge, critical thinking and aesthetic enjoyment. Based on the multifaceted and global character of a museum alliance which aims to promote bridge-building across the various museums, the Kupferstich-Kabinett will not only display its holdings in its home in the Residenzschloss, but also show selected works in other museums of the Staatliche Kunstsammlun­gen Dresden. Another venue participating in the anniversary celebrations will be the Josef-Hegenbarth-Archiv (Josef Hegenbarth Archive), which contains the extensive body of works left behind by the artist and has belonged to the Kupferstich-Kabinett since 1998. All these places not only reflect the history and future of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, but also stimulate thought and raise questions.


[Translate to English:] Heutzutage

Nowadays, cooperation agreements with the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden (Dresden Academy of Fine Arts) and the Sächsische Aka­demie der Künste (Saxon Academy of Arts), as well as generous donations and bequests from private collectors, provide additional impetus for contemporary acquisitions. The exhibition »Crossing Borders. Sammeln für die Zukunft« (Crossing Borders. Collecting for the Future) at the end of the anniversary year will illustrate the opportunities presented by collecting in the present day, and contemporary works, mostly on paper, will be on display. At the end of 2020 the Morgan Library & Museum in New York will be hosting 60 works from Dresden in an exhibition, thus presenting this outstanding collection on a prominent international stage. Supported by external professional colleagues, the staff of the Kupferstich-Kabinett will be publishing an extensive catalogue of the masterpieces in both English and German.

[Translate to English:] Das Kupferstich-Kabinett

The Kupferstich-Kabinett sees itself as a museum that can offer fascination and orientation, where engagement with works of art can help inform the broad-ranging questions that characterise our present-day world: questions about identity, age, anonymity, participation and freedom. It is also hoped that the anniversary activities will point the way for collecting in the coming centuries. For the fundamental essence of the Kupferstich-Kabinett is as a place not only of preservation but also of openness and dynamism.

[Translate to English:] weitere

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