The Matildenhöhe artists’ colony in Darmstadt was founded by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig with the aim of making the city a cultural centre unique in Germany. The artists who joined it built their own houses and lived and worked here, in a district that covered a cluster of streets. The Grand Duke was a passionate art lover, inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement, one of whose members, Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott, refashioned two rooms of the Grand Duke’s residence in 1898. Shortly afterwards, the Grand Duke’s office was designed by the German Jugendstil artist Otto Eckmann, and Jugendstil – literally the “style of youth” – became the colony’s trademark style. Of the seven founding members, the best known are the Austrian architect Joseph Maria Olbrich, who as leader of the colony was responsible for the concept of the first two big exhibitions, and the pioneering modernist Peter Behrens.

Four major exhibitions – in 1901, 1904, 1908 and 1914 – spread the fame of the colony and its innovative work, which embraced architecture, interior design, furniture and applied arts. Olbrich left for Düsseldorf in 1907, where he designed the Tietz department store; he died shortly afterwards. His role as leader of the colony was taken by Albin Müller, but the 1914 exhibition was cut short by the outbreak of World War I, which brought the colony’s brief heyday to an end.

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