Visual Arts Archive

The Visual Arts Archive collects, stores and provides access to the documentary remains of painters, graphic artists, sculptors, art historians and publicists, as well as the documents of artists’ associations and artists’ clubs, from the latter part of the nineteenth century to the present day. Its range has now grown to 100 holdings with more than 550 continuous metres of written materials, 40,000 photographs and 30,000 transparencies. The Archives feature the works and careers of some 17,000 artists. 

The mainly written materials provide an insight into the works and careers of more than 17,000 artists. The Archive, in which the holdings of the Academy’s members comprise a focal point, is one of the most extensive source collections on German art history since 1900. The members’ archives from the first half of the twentieth century include the artistic estates of painters and graphic designers Lovis Corinth and Philipp Franck, the Dresden painter Robert Sterl, with letters from such Academy members as Max Klinger, Max Liebermann and Max Slevogt, plus the archives of George Grosz and John Heartfield, the two principle representatives of Berlin Dadaism and political satire in the Weimar Republic. In diaries and letters the estates of Käthe Kollwitz and HAP Grieshaber preserve artistic positions and important moments of contemporary history.

Of great historical interest are illustrated letters, such as those exchanged between Grieshaber and his close friend, the photographer and graphic designer Walter Benz. Further members’ archives come from the sculptors Theo Balden, Fritz Cremer, Heinrich Drake and Wieland Förster, the painters and graphic designers Heinrich Ehmsen and Max Lingner, the painter and arts administrator Otto Nagel, and the sculptor and graphic artist Gustav Seitz. Academy members who were among the master pupils of the GDR Academy in the 1950s and ‘60s, such as the painter and graphic designer Dieter Goltzsche, the graphic artist Joachim John and the sculptor Werner Stötzer, have entrusted the Archive with their wide range of documents, typescripts and illustrated New Year’s greetings from brother artists in East and West as living archives. Since 2008 the sculptor Michel Schoenholtz, born in Duisburg, has been contributing his working photographs, correspondence and drawings.

A major aspect of the Archive’s work lies in acquiring, categorizing, and evaluating documents from major institutions in the German and Berlin arts scene. Whether they are avant-garde artists’ groups or state-organised cultural institutions, the files of artists’ clubs and their members give an insight into the way the arts have been viewed in the course of history and into the recurrent attempts to determine the relation between visual arts and the state. The spectrum runs from the Berlin Artists’ Club, founded in 1841, to the German Artists’ Association founded in Weimar in 1903 by Lovis Corinth and Max Liebermann among others, to the German Association of Visual Artists officially founded in East Berlin in 1952¬with unique source material on the history of the arts in the GDR¬up to the historical archive of the Professional Association of Creative Artists (Berlin), whose records start for the western section of the city in 1950.

A central interest in the collection also comes from the archives of those creative artists who were persecuted under National Socialism, whose paths of escape after 1933 led them via Czechoslovakia to England, and who returned to post-war Berlin. Contributors to these holdings include not only the designer-photographer John Heartfield, but also the sculptor and graphic designer René Graetz and his later wife, the graphic designer Elisabeth Shaw. The sculptor Heinz Worner worked for many years as Secretary to the Free German Cultural Association in England, and his archive reflects the work of the group and of the arts in London during the Forties. Materials on the emigration of visual artists to Palestine and the Soviet Union can also be found in the holdings of the photographer Ellen Auerbach, the graphic designer Lea Grundig, the sculptor Ellen Bernkopf and the Worpsweder art nouveau painter Heinrich Vogeler. While the correspondence between the Berlin painter Gerda Rotermund and Ellen Bernkopf, the latter of whom emigrated to Palestine, indicates their different fates, the diary-like notes of Heinrich Vogeler demonstrates his progress from a dreamy aesthete to a politically oriented painter, whose career ended in tragic circumstances in the Kazakh steppes.

These archives are supplemented by the estates of art historians and publicists, such as Karl Scheffler, editor of the magazine Kunst und Künstler, which for many years followed the interrelations between state, academy and secession; or Paul Westheim, who emigrated to Mexico, founding and publishing the influential magazine Das Kunstblatt; or Max Raphael, the idiosyncratic art theorist who escaped to America. The post-war period is represented, among others, by the archives of Erhard Frommhold, the Dresden editor and publicist; of Wolfgang Max Faust, who published so much on the art of the avant garde and the literature of the twentieth century; and of Klaus Hoffmann, editor and publisher of pe... (magazine for art and literature). Finally the Visual Arts Archive preserves a collection of the art historian and Academy member Werner Haftmann.   

(Stand 21.09.2011)