Blick auf das Weimarer Stadtschloss mit Bastille

The Cultural Assets

of the Grand Ducal House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach

The former art collections and cultural assets of Weimar’s ducal house are preserved and presented in the castles and museums of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. Following an amicable settlement between the Free State of Thuringia and the ducal family of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach, ownership of a significant portion of the assets and collections which had formerly belonged to the Grand Ducal House were transferred to the Klassik Stiftung Weimar in 2003. Whenever exhibited and/or published, these items are labelled “from the private collection of the formerly ruling Grand Ducal House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach”.

The Ernestine dynasty had ruled the duchy – and grand duchy after 1815 – for almost four hundred years with Weimar as its ducal seat. By the time of the Reformation, the Ernestines had already amassed a significant collection of artworks, some of which were relinquished in the 17th century due to hereditary division. The newly recultivated collections after 1700 suffered enormous losses after a fire swept through the Residential Castle in 1774. When the ducal family moved into the newly rebuilt and refurbished Classical-period castle in 1803, the picture gallery, the graphic art collection and the former art collection were not returned to their former location in the castle. The Historic Library building with its famous Rococo Hall was initially used as a temporary depository for all the collections. During the 19th century, the Grand Ducal House opened its art collections to the viewing public – a decision that allowed Weimar’s museum landscape to flourish. By the time the ducal family abdicated, most of the art treasures, works of fine art and handcrafted items from the former art cabinet and the ducal silver and porcelain cabinet, were on public display at the Grand Ducal Museum (opened in 1869), now the Neues Museum Weimar, and the Museum of Art and the Arts and Crafts, which had operated since the end of the 19th century. After 1870, the Museum of Courtly Culture of the Goethe Era was installed in the Wittumspalais, and in 1907, Tiefurt Mansion became a commemorative site dedicated to the era of Duchess Anna Amalia.

Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst abdicated on 9 November 1918. Like in other German territories, ownership of Weimar’s cultural assets, acquired with approval from the state parliament and purchased with state funding, transferred to the new Free State of Thuringia. However, during the 1920s, the privately acquired cultural assets of the former Grand Ducal House remained an unresolved matter. The former ruling house of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach and the Free State of Thuringia were unable to reach a final agreement on which parts of the collections belonged to the ducal family’s private collection. The situation became even more contentious as the Grand Ducal House, struggling financially due to hyperinflation and the global financial crisis, was forced to auction off various historically significant items on the international art market.

The Weimar State Art Collections, established after the Grand Duke stepped down, assumed management of the former ducal art collection in the Castle Museum and Belvedere Castle in 1923. The historical furnishings inside the castles, particularly Belvedere and Ettersburg which had served as residences and not as museums, remained in the possession of the former ruling ducal family. The buildings themselves, however, were owned by the Free State of Thuringia. The Grand Ducal family were granted the right of residence in the south wing of the City Castle, a recent addition to the castle complex from 1913/14, and in the private living quarters in the east wing. The furnished living quarters were publicly accessible to a limited extent. Some of Grand Duke Wilhelm Ernst’s artworks, which he kept in his private chambers in the south wing, were transported to Heinrichau Castle (Silesia) – an inheritance which had originally belonged to Grand Duchess Sophie. Unfortunately, these items were lost to plundering at the end of World War II. An unknown number of cultural assets were also plundered in Thuringia after 1945 by American and Russian troops or were seized for the purpose of decorating administrative offices and have since gone missing. Some individual works of art have reappeared on the international art market in recent decades. A large number of privately-owned artworks from the ducal house were kept at the Wartburg fortress. By amicable settlement, the ownership of these was transferred to a public foundation in 1923, in whose committees the Grand Ducal House possessed the majority of the voting rights. The valuable Carl Alexander Library and corresponding library building, and other pieces of real estate in Eisenach remained in the possession of the Grand Ducal House.

With the passage of the Princely Expropriation Act of 14 December 1948, the State of Thuringia seized ownership of all art collections and cultural assets which had been privately-owned by the Grand Ducal House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach up until the end of World War II. To prevent the lawsuits this act would foreseeably evoke, the members of the House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach were stripped of their rights as citizens of the state. Over the course of the following decades, important interior furnishings in the Weimar City Castle and the Wartburg fortress were either intentionally destroyed or lost due to inappropriate storage conditions. Significant parts of other collections, e.g. the former Ettersburg musket collection, as well as paintings and furniture, were sent away to other museums (Dresden, Meiningen etc.) and have yet to be returned.

After German reunification, the Grand Ducal House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach officially petitioned the government in 1990 to have their mobile and immobile assets returned. In response, the German Bundestag passed the “Indemnification and Compensation Act” (EALG) on 27 September 1994. Although the law effectively excluded the restitution of these cultural assets, it included a provision which called for the restitution of all mobile assets to their former owners within 20 years. This would have entailed returning all the art collections to the family of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach by 2014. In light of its claim to extensive amounts of art and cultural property in Weimar and the immense responsibility this involved, the House of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach decided to cede all legal claims to these assets to the Free State of Thuringia. In return, the family received compensation from the state of Thuringia, which, in view of the total value of the Grand Ducal art collections, was rather symbolic in character. H.R.H. Prince Michael of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach was granted lifetime membership to the Foundation Board of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar. For his responsible role in the negotiations with the Free State of Thuringia, he was awarded the AsKI “Mäcenas Prize” in 2005. After Prince Michael steps down, H.H. Princess Leonie of Saxony-Weimar and Eisenach will assume the rights of the previous owners of the former Grand Ducal art collections on the Foundation Board.

Projects of the Klassik Stiftung Weimar are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Free State of Thuringia, represented by the State Chancellery of Thuringia, Department of Culture and the Arts.

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