Of Enthusiasm for Art and Architectural Passion

Heirs of vast fortunes often have a reputation for resting on the achievements of their ancestors. People born into rich families have always had privileges other social classed do not even dare to dream of, a fact that is particularly true for 19th century. Vast fortunes, however, have also offered the opportunity for self-realisation. In the case of Karl Ernst Osthaus from Hagen, this self-realisation culminated in a sustained promotion of contemporary art and architecture that is still known as "Hagen impulse".

Born on 15 April 1874, Osthaus soon showed enthusiasm for the fine arts. His father, though, a banker at the "Essener Credit-Anstalt", had a different path of life in mind for him. Only after a nervous breakdown he allowed Karl to break off his commercial training and pursue his studies of philosophy and art history in several cities, among others in Vienna, Straßburg, Munich, and Berlin. He gained work experience with renowned representatives of the museum and art scene before inheriting the fortune of his maternal grandparents in 1896. After finishing his studies in 1898, he returned to his native city of Hagen and realised the project to establish his own museum, the Museum Folkwang, today the Osthaus Museum Hagen and the first museum of contemporary art in its time. He decisively shaped the cultural development of the city of Hagen, founded and promoted artists' colonies, workshops and educational institutions. As a member of the "Deutscher Werkbund" he inspired the foundation of the "Deutsches Museum für Kunst in Handel und Gewerbe" (German Museum for Art in Trade and Commerce).

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In particular by outstanding buildings Osthaus inspired his contemporaries for modern architecture. He was a pioneer who recognised the artistic potential of his time and tirelessly stood up for it. As he was drafted into the military service, his activities were limited to a relatively short span of time. On 27 March 1921, he died from a severe illness in Merano (Italy). Today, on his 100th date of death, we remind of his work. After his death, the biggest part of his comprehensive art collection was sold to the city of Essen, where the Museum Folkwang was newly established and still provides visitors with art and pleasure.

 

(In a previous version his date of death was stated as 25 March 1921.)