The Kupferstichkabinett – the Kunsthalle’s department of prints and drawings – opened in 1922 in a study room designed by Fritz Schumacher, then director of Hamburg’s department of building and planning. It is located at the centre of the neoclassical limestone building planned by Alfred Lichtwark, the Kunsthalle’s first director, and opened under his successor Gustav Pauli. This outstanding collection of works on paper is one of the most important of its kind in Europe, with more than 130,000 drawings, prints and photographs in its present holdings.

A bequest by the Hamburg art dealer and collector Georg Ernst Harzen (1790–1863) formed the foundation of the collection. Harzen made a gift in perpetuity to the Hamburger Kunsthalle of some 30,000 drawings and prints, which have been housed there since 1869. A major early patron of the museum, Harzen was also a driving force behind the construction of the museum’s first building.

The Kupferstichkabinett offers a thorough survey of the evolution of European art from the 15th century to the present – and of the history of prints and drawings. Some four thousand old master drawings of the Italian, Dutch, and German schools constitute an important focus of the collection – including superb examples by the hands of such masters as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Canaletto, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Rembrandt, Albrecht Dürer and Albrecht Altdorfer. Another highlight is the exceptional collection of drawings by Spanish old masters – particularly by Goya but also by the Baroque master Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. Acquired by Alfred Lichtwark in London, this group constitutes one of three major collections of its kind outside of Spain, rivalling the Louvre in Paris and the Uffizi in Florence.