Lilly Ernsting (1930–2023) and her husband Kurt (1929–2011) were successful entrepreneurs and major benefactors and patrons of culture, education and social projects.
They also delighted in sharing their enthusiasm for contemporary art glass, opening hearts and arousing curiosity and interest in this particular genre of art. Over a period of nearly five decades, Lilly Ernsting steadily amassed a glass collection of world standing that will continue to be augmented after her passing.
Based on a desire to not keep their unique collection all to themselves but to share it with an interested public, the Ernstings founded the Glasmuseum in 1996 and the Glasdepot in Lette in 2006. Ever since then, the museum’s central mission has been to keep up with new trends in German and international art glass and to promote and exhibit the work of young glass artists. The Glasdepot furthermore offers visitors a chance to view the entire, continuously growing glass collection.
Back in the mid-1970s, as Lilly Ernsting was making plans for a hiking holiday in the Bavarian Forest, she could not have imagined how the trip would change and enrich her life. On a chance visit to a gallery with her husband, she discovered art glass for the first time. Instantly fascinated, she acquired her first glass object: a simple bowl by Willi Pistor. The spark was ignited that would trigger the creation of one of the most important private glass collections anywhere in the world.
Her curiosity aroused, Lilly Ernsting proceeded over the next few years to acquire examples of studio glass, a type of art that was still new at the time, at galleries, exhibitions and through personal contact with artists including Erwin Eisch and Theodor Sellner.
Her growing collection took a decisive turn when she met the charismatic Dutch gallerist Jaap de Harder in 1985: “An aesthete to the core, he introduced me to a whole new way of thinking as I felt and contemplated the beauty and quality of glass art: away from functional glass and toward glass objects and sculptural glass,” she later said of him. When Jaap de Harder died much too young in 1993, Lilly Ernsting took over his estate. With unabated passion, she continued to single-mindedly collect contemporary international art glass. She was assisted in her endeavours by the artist Mieke Groot until 2006 and by the managing director of the Ernsting Stiftung Alter Hof Herding, Dr. Ulrike Hoppe-Oehl, until today.
Lilly Ernsting belonged to the first generation of collectors of European studio glass, so that the history of her collection also traces the development that genre. Her motto was: Never look to the past! And thus she always directed her attention ahead to the latest trends on the glass scene, a strategy that has given her collection an independent and distinctive profile. As a collector, she had her own personal relationship with the works from the outset, often associating them with cherished memories. Each piece was for her a fresh discovery.
We are so very grateful that she allowed us to share in her journey through the exciting world of glass!