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The collection dates back to 1652, when the Great Elector bought around 2,500 drawings and water colours for the royal court library of Brandenburg-Prussia. The official foundation year of the Kupferstichkabinett - Museum of Prints and Drawings is 1831, the date which marks the beginning of a systematic extension of the collection. The 19th century was characterised by the acquisition of a number of high-quality private collections. The world renown of the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett is based on one such acquisition: the 1835 purchase of the Nagler collection with 50,000 works, mainly early prints of the 15th to 17th centuries and old German drawings (such as by Albrecht Dürer and Matthias Grünewald). A few years later, the Pacetti collection was purchased, comprising nearly 10,000 Italian drawings. Significant extensions can also be listed for the years 1874 and 1877, especially in the area of Dutch and German drawings. In 1882, Sandro Botticelli's famous drawings illustrating Dante's "Divine Comedy" entered the Kabinett, as well as numerous illuminated manuscripts from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton. In 1902, the Berlin collection of Adolf von Beckerath was purchased, with around 3,500 old master drawings of the highest quality.
While the Kabinett has at all times purchased contemporary prints, for many years the collecting and keeping of 19th and 20th century drawings (particularly German) fell within the responsibility of the National Gallery. In 1906, around 6,000 drawings and coloured works on paper by Adolph von Menzel entered the gallery's collection. Since 1986, the drawings formerly at the National Gallery have been kept at the Kupferstichkabinett - Museum of Prints and Drawings.
Because of the painful losses of modern art during National Socialism, the concentration of the period since the Second World War has been on rebuilding the collection of 20th century prints. The gaps in the stock of Expressionist prints, for instance, were filled in. Later, the emphasis lay on the acquisition of works of English and American Pop Art. In 1994 a new building was opened at Kulturforum which now housed the Kupferstichkabinett - Museum of Prints and Drawings. Here, the collection which for many years had been divided up between West and East Berlin was once more united, and fused with the drawings collection of the National Gallery.
Since then, the Kabinett has repeatedly been able to purchase important individual works or groups of works (Rembrandt, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg, Franz Gertsch). Additionally, several private collections of post-1960 art came into the collection, among them the collection Hans + Uschi Welle (donation), parts of the Marzona collection, the collection Haralampi G. Oroschakoff (donation) and the donation Paul Maenz Gerd de Vries (through the Graphische Gesellschaft zu Berlin).