Around 1800, on a hill to the east of the city, Prince Christian, a brother of the reigning Grand Duke Ludwig I, began planning a park on the site of a vineyard. The enclosure built at that time is still largely preserved as a quarry-stone wall on Erbacher Strasse. His successor, Grand Duke Ludwig III, continued these plans. The green area, which is now a landscape park, was named after his wife Mathilde. The plane tree grove, which was laid out around 1830, bears witness to this period and is today an important part of the artists' colony founded in 1899 on Mathildenhöhe. A summer cottage in a prominent location, built according to the plans of the neoclassical court architect Georg Moller, had to make way for the Russian Chapel, which was consecrated in the same year.

Darmstadt's population multiplied during these years of industrial growth and economic upswing and needed a modern water supply. Engineer Otto Lueger, experienced in such structures, was commissioned with the planning. The water reservoir required for this purpose was completed in 1880 on the Mathildenhöhe, the highest elevation close to the city. The building, which was used until 1994, is the substructure of the Exhibition Hall and today considered a technical monument.


In the meantime, the expanding development of the city began to take over areas of the Mathildenhöhe. In order to initiate a high-quality further development of this area, Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig commissioned architect Karl Hofmann in 1897 to design an urban development concept for the southern and western parts of the park. On the basis of his plans, a series of villas were built along the streets Victoria-Melitta-Weg (today Prinz-Christians-Weg), Alexandraw­eg and Nikolaiweg, according to designs of such renowned architects as Paul Wallot, Alfred Messel, Heinrich Metzendorf, and Friedrich Pützer. The centre of the Mathildenhöhe, however, was to be used for the buildings, gardens and sculptures of the artists' colony founded in 1899.

1901 – The first exhibition of the artists' colony

As early as 1898, on the initiative of the publisher Alexander Koch and in cooperation with the Kunstverein and the "Freie Vereinigung Darm­städter Künstler" (Free Association of Darmstadt Artists), a "First Darmstadt Arts and Crafts Exhibition" was held at the Kunsthalle. Both here and at the Gewerbemuseum, some of the later members of the artists' colony were already able to exhibit their works. Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig recognised the artistic tendencies of the time and with the help of Koch founded the artists' colony on Mathildenhöhe in 1899.

For the appointment of the first member, the painter and graphic artist Hans Christiansen, the Grand Duke had to travel all the way to Paris in order to win over the internationally renowned artist for his plans in Darmstadt. Afterwards, Peter Behrens from Munich, Joseph Maria Olbrich from Vienna, Rudolf Bosselt from Paris, the two young Munich artists Paul Bürck and Patriz Huber and, as the only resident of Darmstadt, the sculptor Ludwig Habich were appointed. A salary limited to three years and the prospect of a growing number of commissions were to secure the future of these artists. Four of these "first seven" were able to afford a building site on the Mathildenhöhe, acquired at favourable conditions, to have their houses built here. The two youngest members, Huber and Bürck, were given an apartment in the Studio Building.


In accordance with the Arts and Crafts movement in England which aimed at the renewal of art and crafts, combined with architectural designs planned in the spirit of modern man, residential buildings and artists' houses were created on the Mathildenhöhe that were to shape all areas of life and were open to visitors as part of the 1901 exhibition "A Document of German Art".

The Studio Building designed by Olbrich, the Ernst Ludwig House, served as a workplace. Its inscription “Seine Welt zeige der Künstler, die niemals war noch jemals sein wird“ ("May the artist show his world, which never was, nor ever will be") above the ornamentally accentuated portal refers to the visionary claim to comprehensively design an environment that strived for both an aesthetic renewal and a renewal of the everyday life of modern man in the sense of life reform. The foundation stone was laid with the words of the Grand Duke "My state of Hesse may flourish and in it the arts", which clearly shows the ideal of a combination of artistic designs and craftsmanship. In addition, with this combination an economic revival of local production was also aimed at. This first exhibition of the artists' colony on the Mathildenhöhe was well attended and internationally discussed. However, financially it was a great burden on the public purse.


1904 - The second Exhibition of the Darmstadt Artists' Colony

Based on the experiences of the first exhibition of the artists' colony, a much smaller scale was planned in 1904. Many of the artists involved had left Darmstadt in the meantime, only Joseph Maria Olbrich and Ludwig Habich had remained on the Mathildenhöhe. Newly appointed were the sculptor Daniel Greiner, the designer Paul Haustein, and the painter and graphic artist Johann Vincenz Cissarz.

Olbrich designed an extension to the Studio Building of 1901 for the sculptors. In its outer appearance, it stands out clearly using clinker bricks. Today, changing exhibitions take place here, and a part accessible from outside serves as a museum shop.

The only residential buildings were the so-called Three House Group erected on the southwestern corner of the Mathildenhöhe. Olbrich planned an ensemble of three buildings, which as a building complex forms a unit and yet in its architecture refers to the individuality of each inhabitant. Different building materials and the distinctive forms of the gables emphasise the independence of these three houses.


The aim of the "Hessian State Exhibition of Fine and Applied Arts", which opened in 1908, was to present an overview of "the artistic achievements in Hesse today". This time, not only the members of the Darmstadt artists' colony Joseph Maria Olbrich, Albin Müller, Heinrich Jobst, the brothers Friedrich Wilhelm and Christian Heinrich Kleukens, Josef Emil Schnecken­dorf, Jacob Julius Scharvogel, Daniel Greiner and Ernst Riegel presented their works. Beyond the works of Darmstadt, the show was intended to make handicraft products from the entire state of Hesse known to a general public.

As the most important building ensemble of the artists' colony, the Wedding Tower, planned by Joseph Maria Olbrich, was completed together with the adjacent Exhibition Hall in 1908. For this purpose, Olbrich placed on top of the water reservoir of 1880 his monumental architecture which characterises the Mathildenhöhe and surrounded it with geometrically constructed concrete pergolas. The city's landmark, named Wedding Tower in honour of the Grand Duke's second marriage to Eleonore zu Solms-Hohensolms-Lich, is characterised by a striking facade design of dark red clinker brick. Its rows of windows, which are set across the corners and mark the rooms of the royal couple, already anticipate the Expressionist style of the 1920s.

A number of show houses were built on the eastern slope of the Mathildenhöhe as so-called "small housing colony". Six architects were each commissioned to design a show house for the housing estate, the construction of which was only allowed to require about a tenth of the costs of the villas built in 1901. Three of these houses can be found today on Erbacherstrasse opposite the Hofgut Oberfeld. In addition, three residential houses were built along Olbrichweg, one of which is the "Upper Hessian House", planned by Olbrich. Here products of Upper Hessian handicraft were exhibited.

A building designed by the architect Albin Müller and erected only for the duration of the exhibition showed, among other things, the Schmuckhof planned for Bad Nauheim with ceramics by Jacob Julius Scharvogel and sculptures by Heinrich Jobst. In 1906, Scharvogel was appointed to the artists' colony in Darmstadt to set up a ceramics workshop, and in the same year the "Groß­­herzogliche Keramische Manufaktur" (Grand Ducal Ceramic Manufactory) was completed, which he then managed.

Especially due to the furniture production of the companies Alter, Trier and Glückert, the administrative district of Darmstadt was considered a centre of craftsmanship in the Rhineland in those years. With the appointment of the glass artist Josef Emil Schnecken­dorf, another craft workshop, the Groß­­herzogliche Edelglas­manufaktur (Grand Ducal Noble Glass Manufactory) was opened in 1907. A third establishment, the "Ernst Ludwig Presse", produced high-quality and technically demanding printed works under the direction of Friedrich Wilhelm Kleuken and with the assistance of his brother Christian Heinrich.

1914 – The last exhibition of the Darmstadt artists' colony

As early as 1913 another exhibition of the artists' colony was to take place on the Mathildenhöhe, which was then realised a year later under the direction of Albin Müller. Further members were again the brothers Kleukens and Heinrich Jobst; Ernst Riegel was also able to take part as a non-local artist. The architects Emanuel Joseph Margold and Edmund Körner, the sculptor Bernhard Hoetger, the painters Hans Pellar and Fritz Osswald, and the goldsmith Theodor Wende were newly appointed.


The fourth and last exhibition of the artists' colony was opened on May 16, 1914 with a festival at which female students of the Duncan School performed the reform-oriented expressive dance based on compositions by Arnold Mendelssohn. The building erected for this dance school in Darmstadt on the Marienhöhe has been preserved and is now used as a secondary school.


An impressive entrance architecture to the exhibition was created with the "Lion's Gate" planned by Albin Müller. Six monumental double columns carried cast-stone lions created by Bernhard Hoetger. Today this gate with its columns is used as the portal to the University Stadium, while the lions, placed on imposing clinker steles, mark the entrance to the Rosenhöhe Park.

Albin Müller also designed the large water basin in front of the Russian Chapel. With the colourful floor tiles, the short columns at the eastern end and the sacred figures of Mary and Joseph, the so-called "Lily Basin" refers to the historicist architecture of the church consecrated in 1899 in order to integrate it into the Art Nouveau ensemble.

As artistic director of the entire exhibition of 1914, Albin Müller had a "dismountable holiday home" temporarily erected on the sloping green corridor south of the chapel. However, as a permanent architectural feature, his ceramic garden pavilion with its double columns and flat dome is still a popular place for visitors to the Mathildenhöhe. It is also called "Swan Temple" because of the relief slabs with swan motifs.

The largest building complex on the Mathildenhöhe was formed by the group of buildings consisting of eight tenement houses, to which a wing for studios, including apartments for artists, was added. The architects Edmund Körner, Emanuel Josef Margold and Albin Müller himself fully equipped three apartments each in three of the houses planned by Albin Müller. These apartments were then opened to visitors for viewing, which was in accordance with the programme of the previous exhibitions. Together with its gardens, this ensemble was intended to conceal a terrain a brewery site to the east, which was considered unattractive. In place of the group of tenement houses destroyed in World War II, there is now a modern building for the College of Design; only the studio building has been preserved.


In the grove that was created in the former park around 1830, plane trees have been planted at regular intervals. Surrounded by an ivy-covered trellis, this place is a self-contained garden area. For the 1914 exhibition, the sculptor and architect Bernhard Hoetger was commissioned to provide this grove with his own sculptures.

The two cats of prey on the entrance pillars with one waking and one sleeping child on their backs give visitors an indication of the all-encompassing theme of this ensemble: day and night as a symbol of the cycle in nature.

The group of fountains on the opposite northern side stands – like the seven pitcher bearers placed in niches – for the cycle of water which, like human life, must undergo an eternal return from heaven to earth. Four large relief walls with standing and squatting figures symbolise spring, summer, sleep and resurrection.

On the western margin, set in the centre, one finds the monument to the dying mother with her new-born child on her lap, a homage to the painter Paula Modersohn-Becker, who died at an early age. Integrated into the reliefs of spring and summer symbolising emerging life and the reliefs of sleep and resurrection, she is part of the cycle of becoming and passing. This, together with further motifs such as the jackal vases and the guardian lions, allows us to trace the Hoetger’s all-encompassing idea of human life, integrated into a transcendental return.

The artists’ colony Darmstadt from 1914 until today

The building activities of the artists' community on the Mathildenhöhe came to an abrupt end with the beginning of the war in August 1914. Even after 1918, it remained quiet on this artists’ hill, possibly because of the harsh criticism of some architects regarding the undogmatically designed artists' houses. The once much-discussed ensemble fell largely into oblivion. Only with the “rediscovery” of Art Nouveau in the 1950s were the works of the artists' colony taken note of once again, though not yet appreciated. Only the large retrospective of the works of the artists' colony, "A Document of German Art 1901 ∙ 1976" under the direction of the institute's director Bernd Krimmel initiated a change in public awareness.

The municipal exhibition system, however, continued to operate in the Exhibition Hall erected especially for this purpose. Following its opening in 1908, large exhibitions were held in this building every year, except for the war years 1914–16. Since its foundation in 1919, the Darmstadt Secession held its annual show on the Mathildenhöhe. Immediately after the repair of the architecture damaged in World War II, a first exhibition entitled "Modern Masters from Southwest Germany" was opened on July 25, 1948. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the artists' colony in 1951, an exhibition on the history of architecture in the first half of the 20th century was planned, which was shown in the Exhibition Hall at the same time as the second "Darm­städter Gespräch" (Darmstadt Talk). The talks themselves took place in 1951 in the nearby Otto-Berndt-Halle. Eleven internationally renowned architects presented designs for various building tasks, which were to provide exemplary solutions for the modern rebuilding of German cities. Five of these "master buildings" were realised in Darmstadt. The building is currently being renovated and will probably remain closed until 2021.

The "teaching studios for applied art” (Albin Müller, for example, also taught here), which had already been set up under Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, were initially continued in the Werkkunst­schule to the east of the Exhibition Hall. From 1964 to 1971, a modern building for the Werkkunst­schule – today the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Department of Design – was erected in place of Albin Müller's tenement houses. The Wedding Tower was also available for use immediately after the end of the war. In the early years, Wolfgang Steinecke, then head of the cultural department, had already planned to establish a training workshop for the fine arts together with the painter Paul Thesing inside the Wedding Tower and as alternative accommodation in the nearby Kranichstein hunting lodge. The plan was to "secure Darmstadt's reputation throughout Germany, [...] , in the spirit of the old Darmstadt artists' colony", with the aim of "having an exemplary effect on the education of young artists suitable for the new age and being able to train a new generation in the main subjects of painting, graphics and sculpture". From 1949, this art school, founded a few years earlier, was able to move into more suitable space in the Studio Building at Olbrichweg 10, which had been planned by Albin Müller in 1914 and still existed. Here artists such as Carl Gunschmann (painter), Emanuel Josef Margold (architect, designer) and Kasimir Edschmid (writer) had their workplaces. The group of tenements itself, to which the studios belonged as a rear extension, was destroyed in 1944 and the ruins demolished.

Today, the Wedding Tower, an intermediate building and parts of the Exhibition Hall and the Ernst Ludwig House house the archives, magazines and workshops of the Institut Mathildenhöhe, a cultural institution run by the Darmstadt City Council. Its office is in the "Upper Hessian House", a building designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich and built in 1908. This institution organises major exhibitions, such as "Joseph Maria Olbrich 1867–1908. Architect and Designer of Early Modernism" in 2010. It is also in charge of the Artists’ Colony Museum which is also entrusted with the administration of the Darmstadt Municipal Art Collection. The Institut Mathildenhöhe sees itself as an "exhibition house, academic institution, museum, art collection, conference venue, and an institution for the communication of knowledge in the arts, cultural studies and humanities". This wealth of tasks makes it a "centre of urban cultural work and also of cultural policy".

While the exhibition halls could be used for their intended purpose immediately after 1945, the Ernst Ludwig House, which continued to serve as a studio building until 1944, had to be repaired first. From the 1950s onwards, internationally renowned institutions such as the German Academy for Language and Poetry were accommodated in the Ernst Ludwig House. Founded in 1949 in Frankfurt's Paulskirche, the Academy met in 1950 in the halls on the Mathildenhöhe. On 16 October 1951 it moved into the Ernst Ludwig House and remained there until it moved to the Large Glückert House in 1971. Subsequently, the Deutscher Werkbund took up work here instead of the Academy. When in 1951 architect Otto Bartning moved in, this also included the Kirchen­bau­institut (church building institute) which he had founded. This was followed by the Martin Behaim Society. In addition, the Ernst Ludwig House temporarily housed the "German Art Service" under the direction of Hans Schwippert. Architect Walter Gropius supported the founding of the Bauhaus Archive in 1960 under the direction of Hans Maria Wingler. With the plan of documenting the history of the Bauhaus with all the surviving documents, the archive was able to move into the Ernst Ludwig House in 1961. Walter Gropius provided a design for a new building on a plot of land on the Rosenhöhe in Darmstadt. However, this could not be realised for financial reasons. Today, the Bauhaus Archive, which was relocated to Berlin, owns the world's most comprehensive collection on the history of the Bauhaus. Finally, in 1971, the Federal Association of the Deutscher Werkbund moved into the former studio building of the artists' colony and remained there until 1986. The Erasmus Verlag also found accommodation here. In 1987, renovation work began on the Ernst Ludwig House with the aim of establishing a museum. It was meant to represent the 16-year history of the artists' colony by showing works of its 23 members. This Artists’ Colony Museum Mathildenhöhe was opened in 1990 with a symposium on the subject of "Departure towards Modernism".

The sculptor's studios built in 1904 have been preserved. For a while, they were used by the municipal "Lehrwerk­stätte der bildenden Kunst" (training workshop for the fine arts), which was founded after the end of the war. In addition, in the following years sculptors worked in these studios, first Fritz Schwarzbeck and Hermann Geibel, then Georg von Kovats; Richard Hess also worked there for some time. The Werkkunst­schule on the opposite side also made use of parts of the studios until 1974. Today the sculptors’ studios are available for temporary exhibitions; the museum shop is located in the octagon.

The city acquired the Large Glückert House in 1961 and renovated the building. In 1968, the German Art Council (Deutscher Kunstrat) moved into rooms of the house, and since 1971 the German Academy for Language and Poetry (Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung) is working in it. The German Literature Fund e.V. (Deutscher Literaturfonds e. V.) also has its headquarters there. From 2021 onwards, the Large Glückert House will be refurbished, after completion it will be used as before.

In 1980, after renovations of the house, which had been rebuilt in 1950 in a simplified form, the German Poland Institute under the then director Dr. Carl Dedecius took up work in the Olbrich House. In accordance with the specifications of the founder, Dr. Christine Richtzenhain, the former residence of the architect Olbrich was used for "purposes of science, culture and peace work". The handling of the partly historical substance and of the upper floor, rebuilt in a simplified way after the wartime destruction, has been discussed by an independent expert monument advisory board.

The overriding goal of all measures is to conserve the original substance of the objects partially destroyed during the war as well as the different layers of reconstruction. The completion of the partially original ornamentation and the revival of the original access, via a staircase into a vestibule, while retaining the formative changes of the post-war period are part of the restoration.

While Olbrich House had already been used culturally in the past, it will continue to receive an exclusive cultural use to conserve the spirit of the Artists’ Colony with the German Academy for Language and Poetry.

The Deiters House, the former residence of the managing secretary of the artists' colony, has been preserved. It was used as a private residence until 1988. The members of the artists' colony, Albin Müller and Hans Pellar, lived here, among others. By buying the house, the city of Darmstadt was able to pursue the goal of removing all subsequent private changes and open a gallery with paintings and graphics of the 19th century in 1992. From 1997 to 2016, the house provided space for the German Poland Institute. After the Poland Institute had moved out, the renovation of Deiters House took place in 2018/19. Today the municipal World Heritage Office and a research centre for the development of “Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt” has its headquarters there.

The 3rd Darm­städter Gespräch (Darmstadt Talk) in 1952 with the exhibition "Man and Technology" led to the foundation of further important institutions: In the Alfred Messel House (Eugen-Bracht-Weg 6) on Mathildenhöhe, the Rat für Formgebung (Design Council), founded in Darmstadt in 1953, received its own premises under the first director Mia Seeger. The Institute for New Technical Form had already found accommodation here a year earlier. Today the Hessen Design e.V. association, founded in 2006, works in this building.

The New Artists' Colony on the nearby Rosenhöhe, which was initiated by Prince Ludwig of Hesse in 1953 and founded by distinguished Darmstadt citizens, was intended to make a "contribution to overcoming the hardships of intellectual and creative artists" and thus wanted to tie in directly with the tradition of the artists' colony. As early as 1955, the first two houses, Kasimir Edschmid and Rudof Sellner, were built in Edschmidweg. From 1965 to 1967, another seven bungalows with studios were built in Ludwig-Engel-Weg. Here too writers, musicians, sculptors and other cultural workers could live and work at reduced rents. Among them were Karl Krolow, Gabriele Wohmann and Wilhelm Loth. This tradition continues until today. Among others, the writer Katja Behrens, the sculptor Thomas Duttenhoefer, the filmmaker Christian Gropper, the photographer Lukas Einsele, and other creative artists of this city live here today.