Jawlenky’s work complex forms a central focus of the museum’s collections. Though Jawlensky was the city’s most prominent “local” artist from 1921 until his death in 1941, the museum’s collection of his work is by no means a simple consequence of his close relationship to the city. The museum’s initial collection of Jawlensky works, built up in the late 1920s and early 1930s, was purged entirely between 1933 and 1937 as a result of National Socialist cultural politics. All of the works in the museum’s initial collection were either returned to their previous owners or removed from the premises.
The museum’s Jawlensky collection today has been rebuilt through strategic acquisition over the last 25 years and now encompasses over 100 works, making it, alongside the holdings of the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California, one of the largest and most significant Jawlensky collections worldwide.
The works in this collection represent all of the major phases of development in the artist’s career — the early Munich period, the Murnau and Schwabing period, exile in Switzerland and the formative Wiesbaden years. Moreover, the collection contains a number of his multifaceted graphic works of exceptional quality, including self-portraits, portraits and landscapes. On the occasion of the reopening of the museum’s newly renovated central wing in 2006, another significant work, The Redeemer’s Face (1921), was added to the collection. The acquisition was made possible in cooperation with the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, as well as through the generous support of the Cultural Foundation of the German Federal States, the Cultural Foundation of Hesse, the City of Wiesbaden, the Hessische Landesbank, the SV Sparkassenversicherung Hessen-Nassau-Thüringen and the Naspa-Foundation Initiative and Effort.
Jawlensky’s infamous Helen in Spanish Dress was given to the museum in 2014 on the occasion of its commemorative exhibition marking the artist’s 150th birthday. This major work was a gift by local collector Frank Brabant, an avid collector of the works of the “lost generation” of Expressionists since the early 1960s, who has frequently supported the museum by lending works from his Classical Modernist collection for display.
The significance of the museum’s Classical Modernism collection was augmented in 1987 with the addition of the Hanna Bekker vom Rath collection, containing works by such noted Expressionists as Ernst Barlach, Lovis Corinth, Lyonel Feininger, Natalia Gontscharowa, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Otto Mueller and Emil Nolde, as well as major works by Willi Baumeister, Max Beckmann, Erich Heckel, Wassily Kandinsky, August Macke and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
Hanna Bekker vom Rath was a collector and art dealer whose “blue house” in Hofheim in Taunus served as a refuge for many artists labeled “degenerate” by the Nazi regime. Some 30 highly valuable paintings and drawings were purchased from her estate by the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Wiesbaden and have been made available on permanent loan to Museum Wiesbaden.
This second focus of the Classical Modernism collection encompasses works by Ella Bergmann-Michel, Erich Buchholz, Walter Dexel, Adolf Fleischmann, Werner Graeff, Robert Michel, László Moholy-Nagy, François Morellet, Anton Stankowski and Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart.
Constructivism forms an important part of the history of Modernity in Wiesbaden’s art collections, insofar as the “circle of new commercial designers” was established here in Taunus in 1927. The works of artists from this circle, as with those of the Expressionists, were labelled “degenerate” by the National Socialists and eradicated from museums across the country. The first cornerstone of the collection’s Constructivist focus was laid in the years immediately after the Second World War with the acquisition of works by László Moholy-Nagy, Walter Dexel and Erich Buchholz.
By contrast to the Jawlensky collection, there was little expansion to the museum’s Constructivist focus in the 1950s. It was not until the 1990s that genuine expansion occurred when the Vordemberge-Gildewart Foundation in Switzerland bequeathed its vast archive of the Constructivist artist’s works to Museum Wiesbaden. Friedrich Vordemberge-Gildewart (1899—1962), who in the 1920s was invited by Theo van Doesburg himself to become a member of the de Stijl group, left behind an estate encompassing some 50 000 drawings, typographic works, studies and guest books, as well as numerous sketches, photos, letters and other papers belonging to his a circle of friends and acquaintances, such as Kurt Schwitters, László Moholy-Nagy, Theo van Doesburg. The bequeathal of this extensive material has made Wiesbaden one of the most important sites of Constructivism in Germany.
In 2006, with the reopening of the museum’s central wing, ten reconstructions of early reliefs by Wladimir Tatlin (ca. 1915) were put on permanent loan to the museum by Annely Juda Fine Art. These pieces are considered incunabula of the Russian avant-garde and of modern sculpture, now fittingly displayed in the direct vicinity of Ilya Kabakov’s “total” installation The Red Railroad Car (1991), creating a perfect segue to the art of the second half of the 20th century.