No.83 Munich’s Lenbachhaus Shines

Autumn in Munich is when the city shines, a peak time for the city when most visitors and locals make their way to the “Wiesn”, the city fairgrounds, to celebrate Oktoberfest. The iconic month-long festival pays homage to German beer and pretzels, and gives locals an excuse to put on traditional costumes of lederhosen to show their national pride.

Competition is fierce for reservations in the beer tents on the Wiesn. So if you are one of many who are unsuccessful in securing yourself a spot, we have a suggestion for another more contemplative way to spend the afternoon. Make your way to Koenigsplatz square to visit the renowned museum of art, Lenbachhaus.

Lenbachhaus is the former residence of local artist Franz von Lenbach, the go-to portrait artist for the well-to-do and famous of Munich’s society around the turn of the 20th century.

In 1890 he built a beautiful Italianate villa right in the then-fashionable center of town near the Propylaea, a symbolic city gate, on the ceremonial route leading from the royal residence to Nymphenburg Palace.

The prominent location was conveniently close to the major art collections of the state. The Glyptothek and the royal exhibition building (now home to the State Collection of Antiquities) on Königsplatz are just a stone’s throw away, and the Alte and Neue Pinakothek are within easy walking distance. Count Schack, Lenbach’s greatest supporter, resided a short way down the road toward Nymphenburg, and renowned composer and theater director Richard Wagner’s villa stood just across the street.

When his widow, Lolo von Lenbach, offered to sell the property to the City of Munich in 1924, her proposal included the donation of the building’s furnishings and interior decorations as well as numerous works by Lenbach. The acquisition of the Lenbachhaus made it possible to fulfill the desire for a municipal art museum, which had been widely felt for many years. The city’s art holdings, which were scattered across various municipal institutions, were united, and municipal funding was used to expand the collection.


To create enough floor space for the collection and exhibitions, the first expansion of the museum occurred when architect Hans Grässel added an extension to Lenbach’s studio and residence building. Called the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, the extension opened its doors to the public on May 1, 1929.

During the Second World War, the museum suffered heavy damage and a loss of funding. Large parts of the building were destroyed. But after rapid reconstruction, the first shows of the postwar era were held in 1947. Despite the museum’s limited funding, new works, especially by contemporary artists, were added to the collection.


Over the years, acquisition funding provided by the city and prominent patrons enabled the museum to purchase a number of eminent contemporary works causing the collection to again outgrow Lenbachhaus’ limited space. In 2009, work began on the refurbishment and redesign of the Lenbachhaus, including the addition of a new wing by Architect Norman Foster. The renovated gallery with its new extension was inaugurated in May 2013.

Norman Foster’s addition draws inspiration from the yellow Italianate villa of the original house, with a yellow tinted metal facade that guides you towards the entry. A restaurant, Ellas, on the ground floor is a must visit, especially if you are lucky enough to encounter a warm sunny fall day allowing you to take advantage of the outdoor seating.


The modern addition, like a protective blanket, wraps around two sides of the original villa making the three-story entry lobby the heart of the museum. In the middle of the lobby a large-scale installation by the Danish-Icelandic artist, Olafur Eliasson, refracts sunlight from a slender clerestory window to cast dynamic patterns of light and shade across the entry’s white walls


On display in the new gallery spaces is Lenbachhaus’ comprehensive collection of “New Objectivity” paintings—the collection for which Lenbachhaus is most known. Paintings in the “New Objectivity” collection are the result of a movement in German art that arose during the 1920s as a reaction against expressionism. Artists associated with the movement—including Max Beckmann, Otto Dix, and George Grosz—became interested in a new realism and unfiltered view of modern society and technology.

The new museum envelopes the old villa, making the building an exhibit in itself. So after roaming the new gallery spaces we concluded our visit by venturing into the heart the original villa to enjoy the exciting juxtaposition of old and new, the Italianate villa, dark, ornate and lush with paintings hanging as Lenbach would have placed them.


Finally, we conclude our visit with some time to process our visit over some culinary artwork, some coffee, and cake, or Kaffee und Kuchen as they say at Ellas.

Quite a different experience than what’s going on over at the Wiesn. Take in both if you can, but if I had to pick one I would opt for Lenbachhaus.


For opening hours and directions go to; www.lenbachhaus.de. For reservations at Ella go to; www.ella-lenbachhaus.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

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