The term modernity describes the gradual emancipation of the liberal arts starting in1800, and the artists’ disengagement in the context of their traditional patrons: church, state and court. Since then the arts have been increasingly at the service of the bourgeoisie. At the turn of the 20th century, especially after World War I (1914-1918), art was radically changing throughout Europe.

At the same time, numerous artists formed various groups to pursue the concrete goal of the renewal of art in itself. The Expressionist artists group Die Brücke and the Dutch De Stijl movement are examples of such groups who promoted this goal and inspired others. There has been no other time in history when so many manifestos were written calling for the fusion of art and life. Artists had the utopian belief that art could fuel the renewal of society. From the beginning, the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg had been founded as a museum for the fine arts, as its name specifies. However, painting and sculpture has been collected in varying intensity through the years.

The commitment of the second director, Max Sauerlandt (1880-1934), was exceptional. He was particularly dedicated to the Expressionist artists such as Erich Heckel (1883-1970). As a consequence of the law vilifying the display and exhibition of "Degenerate Art", these works were confiscated in 1937. The majority of the works remain lost to this day. In 1966, Erich Heckel, himself assisted the MKG in aquiring his early wooden sculpture Woman Standing With Her Chin Resting. Further highlights of the collection include the Toy Town, designed by the Bauhaus-artist Lyonel Feininger for his two sons. Lavinia Schulz (1896-1924) and Walter Holdt‘s (1899-1924) dance masks are also unique. Schulz and Holdt created them for the legendary Hamburger artists’ festivals in the 1920s, where they performed in them.