L. Fritz Gruber was not just a mediator, organiser, author, and initiator, he was also an important collector of photographs. The Museum Ludwig is indebted to him for the most important part of his legacy: His collection on the art and cultural history of photography.
This is not just any collection of photographs but one which, regarding the history of the medium and its tradition, is particularly sensitive and outstandingly important for Cologne, as this collection came into being at the same time as the legendary photokina exhibitions and was compiled by L. Fritz Gruber as exhibition organiser from the 1950s to the 1970s.
The first photokina opened in 1951. In parallel, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Photographie (German Photography Society) was founded, a network of photographers, connoisseurs, and supporters active at national and international level. In the following decades L. Fritz Gruber arranged more than 300 exhibitions and attracted international guests like Edward Steichen, Beaumont Newhall, and Helmut Gernsheim to Cologne. He exhibited August Sander in 1951, Irving Penn in 1954, Ansel Adams in 1956, Man Ray and Albert Renger Patzsch in 1960, Jacques-Henri Lartigue in 1966, and Chargesheimer in 1970, to mention only a few of these outstanding events. In the post-war years L. Fritz Gruber travelled the world to build international contacts: At the New York Museum of Modern Art he saw photographic exhibitions which he presented in Cologne shortly afterwards. In Paris he met - above all at Pierre Gassmann's - Brassai, Kertesz, Henri Cartier Bresson, and of course Man Ray, who was a long-standing friend of his. L. Fritz Gruber knew them all, the legends of classical photography and they liked him, the urbane, elegant, and communicative magnifico of photography from Cologne.
Hugo Erfurth, Portrait, back inscribed in ink: Hans Thoma, 1920, oil pigment print, 33.3 x 27.4 cm, Museum Ludwig / Gruber Collection
His great passion was art, any kind of art, but above all photography as the special cultural achievement of the 20th century, as one of the forms of experiencing and communicating which shaped modern life so decidedly. L. Fritz Gruber was the driving force behind Cologne's advancing to become a true capital of photography in the years following 1950, long before Cologne became an art metropolis in West Germany. The photokina exhibitions were, in their outlook, always committed to the present and the future and, using this as a point of departure, to staging retrospectives of the medium's great traditions and its pioneers. The Gruber Collection, which consists of around 2400 photographs from the 20th century, is structured accordingly.
It includes several early photographs by D. Octavius Hill, but consists mostly of 20th century photographs. Starting with works by Heinrich Kühn, Alvin Langdon Coburn, and Hugo Erfurth, the collection includes a representative selection of American photographs, for example by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but also examples of photo journalism by Alfred Einsenstaedt, Gordon Parks, and Weegee. Artistically experimental photographs by Moholy-Nagy, Man Ray, Herbert List, Philippe Halsman, Chargesheimer, Heinz Hajek-Halke, and Otto Steinert are as much part of the collection as fashion photographs by Cecil Beaton, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, and Horst P. Horst.
The photographs by Man Ray remain outstanding, as this collection is compelling not only due to its size but also its outstanding quality, which we owe to the friendly collaboration between L. Fritz Gruber and the great artist Man Ray.