The Museum Ludwig preserves one of Europe’s largest and most significant collections of nineteenth and twentieth-century photography. From the outset it was above all dedicated collectors who contributed to its diversity and quality. Just one year after the founding of the Museum Ludwig in 1976, for instance, the cornerstone of the present Photographic Collection was laid with the purchase of works from the L. Fritz Gruber Collection. This nucleus was then continually expanded through further donations from the couple L. Fritz and Renate Gruber. Gruber fostered first-rate contacts to photographers in Germany and abroad and, as the organizer of the photokina-Bildershauen (photokina photo exhibitions), helped to bring their work to public attention after the collapse of the National Socialist dictatorship.
Together with the collections of the Agfa Photo-Historama, the photographer Robert Lebeck, and Daniela Mrazkova, as well as a large body of Russian photographs of the 1920s and 1930s on loan from the Peter and Irene Ludwig Foundation, the Photographic Collection of the Museum Ludwig incorporates early daguerreotypes, unique incunabula from the nineteenth century, major artistic photographs, albums, and portfolios, as well as wide-ranging materials on the cultural history of the medium. The photographer Robert Lebeck, for example, amassed nineteenth-century photographs and albums on a large scale—including numerous travel photographs—that have been housed in the Museum Ludwig since 1994. And, at the outset of the twentieth century, the photography historian Erich Stenger began systematically collecting photographs and historical materials on photography, such as caricatures and books. These were purchased by Agfa in 1955 and presented at the Agfa Foto-Historama Museum on the Bayer/Agfa factory premises in 1974. A recognized “national treasure,” the collection was acquired by the Museum Ludwig in 2005.
A first-rate expansion of the Russian Avant-Garde collection area was made possible with the purchase of the Daniela Mrazkova Collection in 2008. Regular special exhibitions make the Photographic Collection in the Museum Ludwig accessible. At present, while the holdings are being digitalized, selected objects can be viewed online at www.kulturelles-erbe-koeln.de.
In recent decades the collection has been brought up to date through purchases and gifts, including works by Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Wolfgang Tillmans, Christopher Williams, and Sherrie Levine, to name only a few.