The foundation for the Kunstmuseen Krefeld was laid in 1897 with the opening of the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum in Karlsplatz.
It soon developed into one of the most progressive institutes active in the field of design, applied art and architecture. Exemplary posters, pottery, Japanese woodcuts and articles of daily use, for example, were presented with the goal of influencing stylistic currents and promoting a new sense of “good taste”.
An extension was already planned for the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum shortly after its opening due to the need for additional space. It was realized in 1912 with the erection of the south and north wings designed by Hugo Koch. The museum was closed in 1942 because of the Second World War, which the building survived unscathed. Sharing its spaces at first with municipal offices and institutions after 1945, the museum largely served as a fine arts museum at that time.
For the first time in almost 40 years, Johan Thorn Prikker’s (1868–1932) wall painting Lebensalter (The Ages of Life) with its depiction of the cycle of life is again on view on the second floor. The artist created the work in 1923 in a fresco-secco technique (on dry plaster) for this site.
Under its director Paul Wember, the museum was again closed in 1960 because of projected reconstruction work that would only commence in 1966 in accordance with the plans designed by the city’s director of buildings Heinrich Röhm. The Kaiser Wilhelm Museum opened its doors to the public again in 1968. The representative staircase in front of the building had to make way for a new street while the historic staircase inside was replaced by a lighter contemporary version. The statue of Emperor Wilhelm I is now located outside on the north side of the museum.
From 2012 to 2016, the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum was renovated from top to bottom and refitted in keeping with international climate and safety standards. The historical substance was restored, reconstructed and rebuilt in keeping with landmark principles. As such, original construction elements from the time of the turn of the 20th century can now be encountered in the interior modern sequences and up-to-date technology.