The collection at Museum Ludwig begins with the dawn of the 20th century and covers the major stations and currents in Modern Art.
One of the collection's foundation stones was the Josef Haubrich Collection. Immediately after the Second World War in 1946, this lawyer from Cologne donated the museum numerous artworks by the Expressionists and other representatives of Classical Modernism. Included were masterpieces by Erich Heckel, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, August Macke, Otto Müller, Otto Dix, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Marc Chagall. Additional works by Willi Baumeister, Max Beckmann, Alexej von Jawlensky, Paul Klee, Oskar Kokoschka, Henri Matisse and Ernst Wilhelm Nay were subsequently acquired as endowments, gifts or loans.
The donation by Peter and Irene Ludwig in 1976, which marked the founding of Museum Ludwig as the first museum for 20th century art in Cologne, consisted of the most extensive collection of U.S. American Pop Art. outside the USA. With this, major pieces by Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Tom Wesselmann - to name a few - found their way into Museum Ludwig. At the same time, abstract American painting is likewise represented in the museum, including works by Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, Morris Louis and Frank Stella.
In addition, Mr and Mrs Ludwig put their collection of the Russian avant-garde on permanent loan to the museum, including matchless works from the period 1905 to 1935 by artists such as Kasimir Malevich, Ljubov Popova, Natalia Goncharova, Michail Larianov and Alexander Rodchenko. Today with its over 600 works, it is the foremost public collection of Russian art in the West.
Museum Ludwig also owns the world's third largest Picasso Collection - after only Paris and Barcelona. Around 900 works from every genre, including paintings, sculptures, prints and ceramics, give a clear insight into every phase and technique this one-in-a-century artist explored, with particular emphasis on the last decades of his creative output. Thanks to three donations made by Peter and Irene Ludwig, the last on the reopening of the museum in 2001, the entire collection has now been entrusted to the museum.
1977 saw the founding of the Photography Department at Museum Ludwig, which today numbers among the oldest and most renowned to be found at a museum of modern and contemporary art. The holdings of historical photographs contain the earliest Daguerreotypes from Berlin, travel photographs from Egypt and Scotland from the mid-19th century, one of August Sander's very rare Stammmappen from 1927, and over 300 artist portraits by Hugo Erfurth. With the purchase of the Agfa Collection in 2005, Museum Ludwig acquired an important collection focused on the cultural history of photography which has been named a ‘National Cultural Asset'. Recently the Photographic Collection has been brought up to date by important purchases and gifts of works by artists such as Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Wolfgang Tillmans, Christopher Williams, Sanja Iveković and Sherrie Levine, to name a few.
James Rosenquist, Untitled (Joan Crawford says...), 1964, oil on canvas, 242 x 196 cm, Ludwig Donation 1976
The Graphic Collection at Museum Ludwig is home to some 3,000 original works on paper - which is to say drawings, watercolours, gouaches, collages, etc. - and almost 10,000 prints, all of which are largely gifts from generous benefactors. One of the main thrusts of the collection is Expressionism.
Thanks to the donations by Peter and Irene Ludwig, Picasso's Vollard Suite, Suite 345 and Suite 156 have come in their entirety to Museum Ludwig. Artists from Pop Art and the Russian avant-garde are also represented in the Graphic Collection by prominent works. The collection is constantly brought up to date through purchases and donations, most recently with works by David Shrigley and Georg Baselitz.
Since the 1970s, the art video has established itself alongside the classical fields of collecting as its very own field in the 20th century art museum. Museum Ludwig began to collect video art very early on, and has major works by the ‘pioneers' of this art form, such as Nam June Paik, Marina Abramovic, Bruce Nauman and Joan Jonas. All of the directions in video and film as well as media art installations have been brought together and expanded by the inclusion of current works by, for instance, Aernout Mik, Mike Kelley, Guy Ben-Ner and Jeanne Faust.
Point of departure for extending this collection up to the present was the presentation "Museum of our Wishes" in 2001/2002, in which both contemporary and historical works were shown within the context of the permanent collection. This presentation signalled the new direction the collection was to take - not least by including photography and media art in the category of contemporary art.