The Hessian state museum unites art and cultural history as well as natural history under the same roof. It was founded by Grand Duke Louis I, who donated his natural and art history collections to the state in 1820 – for the purpose of “promoting true education and propagating useful knowledge”. The current museum building was inaugurated by Alfred Messel in 1906.
The painting gallery includes works of the old Cologne and Lower Rhine school, such as Stefan Lochner’s famous “Presentation of Jesus at the Temple”. The older Middle Rhine painting is uniquely represented with altar works. Central to the Dutch painting is “The Magpie on the Gallows” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. In 1924, a collection of works by Arnold Böcklin came to the museum. After 1945, the art of the 20th century was fostered – including Corinth, Kirchner, Beckmann, Polke, Richter, and Baselitz.
Among the works in the sculpture collection, the Crucifixion Group by Tilman Riemenschneider stands out. For the 19th and 20th centuries, works by Klinger, Archipenko, Lipchitz, and Arp occupy centre stage. With 290 works of the time between 1949 and 1972, the “Block Beuys” – on loan since 1970 – represents the largest existing body of works by Joseph Beuys. In 2004, the Simon Spierer collection with 40 sculptures of the classic modernity was donated to the museum.
The “Artisan craftwork” collection shows medieval objects in ivory and precious metals, including early medieval diptychs, one small tablet from the so-called Magdeburg Antependium, and the domed reliquary by the master of the Gregorius portable altar. The Jugendstil is represented by most significant artists like Olbrich, Behrens, Lalique, Gallé, Ashbee, van de Velde, and Hoffmann.
The archaeological collections include finds from the homeland and the Rhineland. For instance, the figure mosaic of Bad Vilbel from the end of the 2nd century is impressive. The graphic collection counts approximately 30,000 sheets. Prints and xylographs by Dürer and Rembrandt were acquired as early as 1803. The 19th century is marked by Darmstadt and southern German artists.
German drawings are accompanied by Italian, French, and Dutch drawings from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries with works by Michelangelo and Botticelli. Pop art graphics and drawings by Joseph Beuys represent the 20th century.
The geological-palaeontological and mineralogical division has been assigned the stratigraphic and palaeontology collections – which contain fossil finds – as well as finds from the Messel Pit, such as the famous “primitive horse of Messel”. The mineral collection contains unique pieces from the Ruppenthal collection. Unique dioramas have been the focus of the zoological collection since 1906. The distribution of animals across the globe is represented in ten animal geography groups. Those groups combine the animals of whole continents or of a characteristic region. The animal kingdom closes the loop.
If the objects in this museum made the visitors aware of the developments in natural, human and cultural history – also in association with the historic background – the Hessian state museum would have accomplished its mission in accordance with its founders.
Dr. Klaus-Dieter Pohl was born in 1950 and studied art history, modern history, and journalism in Göttingen and Berlin. He then took charge of public relations at the National Gallery and obtained a doctorate at the University of Osnabrück in 1986. After a traineeship at the Germanic National Museum in Nuremberg, he was active as scientific assistant at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. Since 1991, Dr. Klaus-Dieter Pohl has been curator for 19th- and 20th-century painting and sculpture at the Hessian state museum in Darmstadt.