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Alfred Lichtwark, Inaugural Address as Director of Hamburg’s Art Gallery (December 9, 1886)

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There is no need for me to tell you specifically that we do not intend to tackle all of this at once. We would not be able to do so even if we already had the necessary staff and funds at our disposal. In any case, years will pass before even the outlines of our program are completed. Yet we deemed it imperative to wait no longer in presenting you with the full extent of our program, although we have only hinted at the major points. The practical implementation of this program will add a number of items to our list and – as we firmly believe – remove only a very few.

Dear gentlemen, we all know that for more than a century, Hamburg’s citizenry has represented the most important element of national culture in the North. Toward the end of the Thirty Years’ War, intellectual life sought refuge behind the bulwarks of Hamburg. As early as the late seventeenth century, this city saw the establishment of the first German opera house; in the eighteenth century, the citizenry of Hamburg – which had been educated to prize the accomplishments of the nation, and in this respect stood ahead of all the princely courts that were biased in favor of French culture – provided the impetus for the renaissance in German literature. To this day, we proudly mention the name of old Brockes.* Part of the glory achieved by Lessing and Klopstock radiates on us as well. Moreover, artistic life was no less vibrant; I would like to remind you that this city was able to conceive and realize a work as magnificent as the Grosse Michaeliskirche (the Great St. Michael’s Church) at a time when the bourgeoisie was stagnating everywhere else.

To be sure, in this century, our politically isolated citizenry, which has been preoccupied with the struggle for material survival, has not always been able to maintain a consistent level of intensity in its pursuit of ideals. The years of national rebirth, however, have found us prepared, and recent decades have witnessed the most comprehensive efforts to build new foundations for education. You, dear gentlemen, have shown an exemplary willingness to make sacrifices to reform the elementary school system; you have reorganized the older scientific institutes; and you have established others anew. The reorganization of the Kunsthalle is the latest of your endeavors.

May it join the older institutes as a worthy addition! May it contribute within its modest sphere of activity to restoring the artistic education of our population to its previous heights; may the Kunsthalle, through its achievements, continue to merit the goodwill of our patriotic fellow citizens whose voluntary donations have allowed this institute to amass treasures. But, dear gentlemen, for the future development of the Kunsthalle, private help will not suffice. The organism that I have held before your eyes in brief outline cannot come into existence unless you desire it.

* Barthold Hinrich Brockes, poet, born in Hamburg on September 22, 1680, died in Hamburg on January 16, 1747.

Source: Alfred Lichtwark, “Die Aufgaben der Kunsthalle. Antrittsrede, den 9. December 1886” [“The Responsibilities of the Kunsthalle. Inaugural Address, December 9, 1886”], in Alfred Lichtwark, Drei Programme [Three Programs], 2nd edition. Berlin: Bruno Cassirer, 1902, pp. 13-31.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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