The history of the collection of the Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts) starts out in 1873, thus three years prior to the opening of the museum. The first object to enter the collection was a “Rhine Wine Glass with Gold Rim”. 1875 then marked the actual foundation of the collection; many acquisitions came from an exhibition of handicrafts ranging from the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century.
When it was opened in 1876, the Kunstgewerbemuseum was affiliated to the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) and had the ambition of communicating good taste and a feeling for aesthetics to students, the public and producers from trade and industry through models of high-quality design. This model collection was compiled with an eye to the economic strengths of the region and has to this day formed the exceptional foundation of the collection. Meanwhile, the Kunstgewerbemuseum was determined even then to look beyond the borders of Dresden and Saxony and therefore avails of a remarkable collection of objects from different cultural epochs and regions, including the countries neighbouring Saxony in the south-east, the Ottoman Empire, Asia and South America.
As one of the first of the collection’s focuses, a selection of textile fragments was compiled which was of particular significance as regards the textile industry, traditionally deeply rooted in Saxony. Moreover, a wide-ranging display from the collection’s various departments was developed, today encompassing objects from the fields of textiles, ceramics, metal, wood, paper, glass and also plastics.
The museum was separated from the administration of the Kunstgewerbeschule in 1914 and since then has been operated as an autonomous museum. This was accompanied by a new self-image, shifting the key focuses of the collection and inspiring a new mode of presentation. Thus the principle of the model collection was relinquished and replaced by the endeavour to present the collection from the perspectives of art history and stylistic epochs with the aim of researching relationships in art and cultural history as reflected in the decorative arts.
The collection experienced a dire blow in the last weeks of the war in 1945. In that time almost half the holdings was lost through destruction and theft. The ceramics and glass department suffered particularly grievous losses, also the East Asian and tapestry collections lost many pieces.
In 1963/64 the Kunstgewerbemuseum moved to Pillnitz, where it has received its visitors and displayed its holdings from May to October ever since. One of the collection’s special features is in the East Wing of the Upper Palace: a collection, unique in size and range, of objects from the Deutsche Werkstätten Hellerau demonstrates what innovative energy beamed out into the world from Dresden in 1900.
The appointment of the design expert Tulga Beyerle as museum director in 2014 gave a special boost to the museum by placing it more conspicuously on the international scene and between tradition and experiment. This is reflected in a comprehensive programme of special exhibitions and a systematic expansion of the collection through contemporary works, especially from the neighbouring countries of Poland and the Czech Republic.