Masterpieces from the Ziegler Collection

The scientist and art collector Karl Ziegler (1898-1973) worked from 1936 to 1945 as director of the Chemical Institute of the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg.  In 1943, he also became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim (Ruhr). The institute was engaged in German armaments research. Nevertheless, Karl Ziegler was able to negotiate in his employment contract basic research without any purposes. In doing so, he was able to do extensive research towards his future invention. The high-pressure polyethylene process developed by the British ICI in the 1930s already provided a market for plastic products when Karl Ziegler succeeded in producing polyethylene at atmospheric pressure in 1953. This meant a huge reduction in production costs. The Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, the successor of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, possessed a patent exploitation company that allowed Karl Ziegler and his co-inventors to enforce their protection and licensing rights worldwide. This financial success secured the complete income of the Institute for Coal Research until 1995. The million tons of polyethylene and polypropylene production also enabled Ziegler’s private art collection, which he later made available to the public.

Art historian Anke Dornbach of Moritzburg Art Museum Halle (Saale) will give GYA members an exclusive tour through the exhibition of the Ziegler collection, which also raises questions about the limits of freedom of science and art in political and social contexts.

Karl Ziegler was selected as member of the Leopoldina in 1938, and received the Nobel Prize in 1963, together with Italian researcher Giulio Natta. In 1967, Ziegler acquired the painting Red Tower II (1930) by Lyonel Feininger, whose fate is closely linked to the city of Halle (Saale): It is part of the artist’s Halle series of 11 oil paintings created between 1929 and 1931. All paintings were purchased by the city for the museum, however, they were confiscated in 1937 under the Nazi law on “Degenerate Art”. Today, three paintings are now back in the Moritzburg Art Museum Halle (Saale). With Red Tower II from the Ziegler Collection, a fourth Feininger painting returns for the time to its original context of creation and collection.