When the Municipal Museum threw open its doors to the general public in 1848, 41 drawings and watercolours by contemporary artists and a small collection of older copperplate engravings and woodcuts were among the artworks that the Art Society donated to the Aldermen Council. Nobody guessed at the time that from these humble beginnings, a collection would grow whose portfolio has since swollen to around 55,000 drawings and graphics.
Although the Leipzig collection only contains certain groups of works or important individual sheets by numerous artists, almost the entire oeuvre by other masters are preserved. The complete graphic work by William Hogarth, Daniel Chodowiecki and Johann Friedrich is kept alongside Anton von Dyck’s “iconography”.
Max Klinger’s work, characterised by a rare unity, has a special standing in Leipzig. The collection of drawings enjoys global renown. The basis of the Old Masters is found in the Johann August Otto Gehler collection, a lawyer from Leipzig who died in 1822, which was passed on to the museum in 1859 as a legacy from his descendents in the Dörriensche Foundation; it covers masterpieces by German, Dutch, Italian and French artists from the end of the 15th to the start of the 19th centuries. In 1952, the Leipzig City Library passed on to the Graphic Collection almost 5,000 drawings from the Italian High Baroque era, contained in 56 books with adhesive binding. They had been purchased by the Aldermen Council in 1714 and originated mainly from the estate of Queen Christine of Sweden. Since then, masterful pages by Gianlorenzo Bernini, Salvator Rosa and other artists have contributed significantly to the Leipzig collection’s international reputation.
Just like in the museum’s Painting Collection, the German art of drawing from the 18th to the 20th centuries is represented to an unusually rich and comprehensive degree. The portfolio of drawings by Max Beckmann stands out. The Graphic Collection contains 360 drawings from Mathilde Q. Beckmann’s estate alone, given as permanent loans. In the art of drawing during the second half of the 20th century, the pages mirror several generations in the dynamic variety of artistic work in the GDR, whereby work by artists from Leipzig is particularly outstanding in its range of individual signatures.