Karl Ernst Osthaus believed that people should have access to art and he founded the Folkwang Museum in 1902 – initially not in Essen, but in Hagen. It was only in 1921 that the collection was transferred to the industrial city in North Rhine-Westphalia, where it quickly developed into a world-class museum.
The Folkwang Museum's reputation is founded on its outstanding holdings of 19th century painting and sculpture, classical modernist works, post-1945 art and photography (established as a separate department in 1979). Works by van Gogh, Cézanne, Gauguin and Matisse, the pioneers of modernism, lead into German Expressionism and the various art movements of the 20th century such as Cubism, concrete art, abstract Expressionism, Art Informel and Neo-figurative art. Post-1945 art and contemporary art are represented in works by the American artists Rothko, Newman, Pollock, Reinhardt, Kline, Louis and Stella; works by Soulages, Vedova, Klein and Fontana, and Richter and Palermo complete the impressive collection. There are also contemporary groups of works and installations; video art from 1973 to 1988 can be seen in screenings and presentations, and photography and prints form two further collections. The German Poster Museum, which is also part of the Folkwang Museum, owns one of the world's biggest poster collections, with 340,000 posters from the spheres of politics, business and culture.