In 1815, the merchant and banker Johann Friedrich Städel of Frankfurt set forth in his will that his "sizeable collection of paintings, engravings and art objects [be dedicated], along with as much of [his] fortune as remains at the time, to the foundation of a special, autonomous art institute bearing [his] name to provide the best for this town and its citizens”, thus laying the cornerstone for one of Germany’s oldest art museums, the Städelsches Kunstinstitut. In keeping with the wishes of its founder, this art institute was to encompass not only a collection to which the public would have access, but also a facility for the education of each new generation of artists – the present-day Städelschule.
Since its foundation, the Städel Museum – which has also accommodated the collection of the Städtische Galerie (municipal gallery) since 1907 – has expanded its holdings continually by pursuing an active acquisition policy. Altogether the collection presently comprises some 2,900 paintings, 600 sculptures, 500 photographs and more than 100,000 drawings and prints. With its rich holdings, the Städel Museum presents an overview of seven hundred years of European art history – beginning with the early fourteenth century and covering the Renaissance, the Baroque, Early Modern and contemporary art. Among the highlights of this comprehensive collection are works by Holbein the Younger, Cranach the Elder, Dürer, Botticelli, Rembrandt and Vermeer, Degas, Matisse, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Kirchner, Beckmann and Klee, Bacon, Klein, Serra, Richter, Kippenberger and Tillmans.
In addition to collecting and preserving art, the scholarly study of the artworks as well as the development of exhibitions within the context of those holdings constitute chief focuses of the museum’s work. A further overriding concern is the target-group-oriented mediation of the collection’s contents and of art in general to a diversified public.
The high degree of activity in the areas of research, exhibitions and museum education as well as the outstanding quality of its collection guarantee the Städel a prominent place in the international museum landscape. As Germany’s first civil museum foundation, the Städel is moreover a prime example of the kind of broad-based private patronage that is so essential for the preservation and development of exceptional cultural institutions.
When the Städel Museum reopened its old spaces and opens its new, all of its collections have been presented in new splendour. The departments of "Modern Art" (1800–1945) and "Old Masters" (until 1800) have opened their doors in the old building on 17 November and 15 December 2011, respectively. Contemporary art is presented in a new underground annex constructed especially for that purpose and opened in February 2012.