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

Alfred Lichtwark (1852-1914) was a school teacher, an art historian, a prolific writer and speaker, and the first director of Hamburg’s Kunsthalle [Art Gallery], which he led from 1886 until his death in 1914. (The Kunsthalle had opened in 1869 but operated without an official director for seventeen years.) Lichtwark became famous for his efforts to make the gallery accessible to a broader public, to support local artists, and to use aesthetic education to encourage Germany’s art-loving public to appreciate Impressionism and other new artistic trends. (He was a close friend of the painter Max Liebermann and acquired some of his major works for the Kunsthalle.) Lichtwark delivered the following speech on the occasion of his inauguration as director. In it, he describes what he considered the guiding principles and objectives of a modern museum: to conserve art, to increase the size of its collections, and to enhance the utility of its collections for ordinary members of the public, especially youth.

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The Responsibilities of the Kunsthalle, Inaugural Address

At this hour, a new chapter in the organization of the Kunsthalle is being ushered in, and you are correct in expecting us to answer questions about the sense and manner in which we intend to solve the problems of administration. I have been given the honorable task of presenting you with our plans. I hope that I am doing as you wish by presenting the materials to you in an objective fashion, so that you may arrive at your own assessment.

Museum management is no longer an experimental field for dilettantism as it used to be in the past, but an independent discipline that requires a staff as thoroughly trained as that found in any other branch of administration. At the institutes in London, Paris, and Vienna – and also in Berlin, starting a decade ago – museum practice has undergone such a comprehensive and profound development that we have been spared the necessity of conducting costly experiments of our own. The principles of administration have been firmly established, and we have a preexisting model to follow.

This only applies, however, to the subject-specific basis of the administration. An institute upon which we might model the overall organization of the Hamburg Kunsthalle still does not exist. The reason is obvious, since it is precisely in big capitals that the basic prototype for the modern museum has developed. So far, the museums in smaller princely seats and provincial towns have limited themselves, virtually without exception, to emulating the example provided. But they are not completely justified in doing so, since the city museum has its own, wholly independent role. At this point, however, we do not wish to search for a general rule, but to shape the organism of our institute on the basis of our own local circumstances, not concerning ourselves with things that are either necessary or unnecessary in other places.

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