Inaugurated in 1929, the Lenbachhaus Munich occupies the former residence of the artist Franz von Lenbach. Lenbach was a central protagonist in the late-nineteenth-century rise of Munich as center of the arts. Born to a lower-middle-class family, he was trained at the Academy of Fine Arts; after 1870, he became a celebrated portraitist and honed his image as an urbane artist and virtuoso of his craft. Between 1887 and 1890, he worked with the renowned architect Gabriel von Seidl to build a spacious atelier and home in the immediate vicinity of Königsplatz. The restored representative rooms on the villa's first floor give an impression of the luxurious interiors in which Lenbach lived with his family.
For his residence, Lenbach purchased a property directly outside the Propylaea, a symbolic city gate, and in the immediate vicinity of the major public art collections, including the Glyptothek and the Royal Art Exhibition Building (now home of the State Collection of Antiquities) on Königsplatz. The Alte and Neue Pinakothek are only a short walk away. The situation underscored the villa's representative function.
The atelier wing was built first, with studios as well as finely appointed rooms in which Lenbach received his elegant clientele. The central residential wing came next, its formal vocabulary inspired by Tuscan villas; Max Kolb designed a garden with a fountain to frame the ensemble.
If the exteriors of Lenbach's villa signaled his achievement to the passerby, the interiors were no less magnificent. Residential and representative rooms as well as the studio and gallery wing were lavishly decorated in various historic styles. The ample original furnishings included precious ancient sculptures, medieval paintings, rare carpets and tapestries, and copies of artifacts when originals could not be obtained. Behind the scenes, Lenbach's was one of the most modern homes in Munich: it had electric light throughout with its own generator and featured steam heating, a bathroom, and a photo studio.
This splendor gave outward expression to how Lenbach’s time envisioned the life of a "prince of painters." The villa was a suitable setting in which to accommodate even guests of the highest rank: when Prince Bismarck, whose public image had been shaped by the numerous portraits Lenbach had painted of him, visited the Bavarian capital in 1892, he received the ovations of the people of Munich on the balcony of Lenbach’s home.
After the buildings suffered major damage in 1944 and 1945, only the foyer and the representative rooms on the first floor of the central wing could be reconstructed; the work was completed in 1952. The original colors of the entrance hall were restored in 1994; in 1996, curators, relying on old photographs, recreated the representative rooms with the original furniture and art objects. These rooms are now devoted to Franz von Lenbach's art and his home as a unique synthesis of diverse creative métiers.