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The Artist's Colony between Munich and Frankfurt


The Artist's Colony is a must-see attraction; for travelers near Southern Germany, Mathildenhöhe is an open air Art Noveau museum that delights.

Photos by the author with the exception of Ernst Ludwig’s headshot.

The Artist’s Colony

Although it was in Darmstadt that the drug ecstasy was compounded in 1912, the city has a much more illustrious and civilized legacy. It is the home of Mathildenhöhe, an artists’ colony, known especially for its Art Noveau style. Also known as Jugendstil or Youth Style in German, It was popular from the mid 1890s to the beginning of World War I.

A Mosaic by Friedrich Wilhelm Kleukens in the entrance of the “Hochzeitsturm” or Wedding Tower in Darmstadt.

The Mathildenhöhe was originally a landscaped park for nobility, but in 1899, Ernst Ludwig, the Grand Duke of Hessen, decided to turn the grounds into an artist’s colony. The land was redesigned in several stages to accommodate his wish. The goal was to provide exhibition space for artists plus promote the model architecture of the time.

One such structure was the Ernst Ludwig House named after the grand duke, himself. It was host to the colony’s first exhibition of art in 1901.

The Art Nouveau Ernst Ludwig House was built by Joseph Maria Olbrich, a leader of the Vienna Secession.

Within the house’s walls is a reproduction dining room, originally designed by Peter Behrens for the 1901 exposition. The table includes glassware also designed by the artist. The idea was that art is part of life itself — a concept that leads to a unity of theme or harmony in a house, its interior decoration, and even its garden.

Historic photo of the dining room designed by Behrens for the 1901 exhibit in the Ernst Ludwig House.

A recreation of the Behrens dining room from the 1901 exhibition

Glassware similar to that exhibited in the dining room model designed by Behrens for the 1901 exhibition.

The Ernst Ludwig House was only one of a series of houses designed for the colony. The Villa in Roses was also designed in 1901 for the painter Hans Christiansen. Sadly, it was completely destroyed in World War II.

Painting of Villa in Roses by Christiansen, 1901.

The backstory

Ludwig was stimulated by both his interest in and sensitivity to art. This, in turn, was likely prompted by his rather sad life events and, as a result, his resolve to make the world a better place.

Called Ernie by his family, he was one of 7 children born to the future Grand Duke Ludwig IV and Princess Alice of Great Britain and Ireland. She was the second daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the Prince Consort.

By the time Ernie was 10 years old, he had lost his mother, brother, and sister. It is thought he blamed himself when both his brother and mother died. This, of course, influenced him the rest of his life.

Queen Victoria stepped in to care for the Hessen children and indulged and doted over Ernie as she never had done with her own offspring. With this strong female influence, Ernest turned away from any military inclinations and toward the arts. Since it was here that he excelled, his initiation of the artists’ colony was the next logical step.

Exhibitions following 1901

Subsequently, 3 more exhibits were held at the colony. The second was in 1904. It was called the “Three House Group,” and concentrated on house construction for the middle classes. In 1908, the Grand Duke sponsored the “Hessen State Exhibition for the Fine and Applied Arts.” The wedding tower and municipal exhibition building were constructed for it. Lastly, in 1914, the display focused on structures that could be used as rentals.

The Wedding Tower (the tall stacked structure) was part of the 1908 exhibition. It is at its entrance that the Mosaic by Friedrich Wilhelm Kleukens is placed (see first photos).

Whether or not you like art, this experience will please almost everyone. It embodies the best of Art Noveau with an outdoor museum, all positioned neatly within the Artist’s Colony called Mathildenhöhe.

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