Schloss Oberhausen probably harks back to the knight's seat of Overhus (also known as Overhuysen or Averhus) from the late 12th or early 13th century. In the year 1443 the moated castle controlling an Emscher River passage fell to the von der Hoven clan based in the fiefdom of Kleve. In 1615, Overhus then passed on to become the domain of Conrad von Boenen. The castle was often plundered and seized due to its advantageous position at the important Emscher transition, as took place in the Eighty Years' War for example.
The Lord of the castle, Friedrich Adolf Freiherr von Boenen zu Berge und Oberhaus, married the heiress Wilhelmine Franziska von Westerholt-Gysenberg in 1770 and assumed the name and coat of arms of her lineage on his appointment to the hereditary imperial court by the Kaiser. However the Westerholt-Gysenbergs then resided at Schloss Berge and left the Oberhausen castle to decay.
In 1801 Friedrich Adolf assigned the castle as a leased manor estate and family domain to his son Maximilian Friedrich Graf von Westerholt-Gysenberg and daughter-in-law Friederike Karoline von Bretzenheim, the illegitimate daughter of the Bavarian-Palatinate elector Karl Theodor.
Maximilian Friedrich, who in 1806 became principle of the court stable for Joachim Murat, the Grand Duke of Berg (and from 1808 the King of Naples), was the recipient of a significant sum of money from this court office and also in 1809 from the fortune of his wife.
Because the neglected castle was deemed inappropriate for their social status, Maximilian Friedrich commissioned the architect August Reinking in 1803 to draw up plans for the renovation and extension of an approximately 200-metre-long inn and posting station to the north-west of the castle to become a neoclassical manor house. Schloss Oberhausen was constructed and fitted out according to these plans as a noble place of residency between approximately 1804 and 1820/1821. From 1808 the landscape architect and Dusseldorf court gardener Maximilian Friedrich Weyhe designed the manor house park and gardens.
Forty years later the family transferred their domicile to Arenfels Castle at Bad Hönningen; after 1858 Schloss Oberhausen remained unused by the members of the noble family, and in 1884, agricultural operations were also terminated. From 1891 the castle building was put out to let. In 1896 the city of Oberhausen purchased the castle grounds and redesigned them as a public domain. The castle itself became the property of the Emschergenossenschaft cooperative in 1908 who then sold it to the city in 1911.
During the Second World War parts of the main building as well as the roof of the Small Castle were destroyed. In 1947 the Municipal Gallery was inaugurated with a collection that included impressionist landscapes from Max Liebermann, Max Slevogt and Lovis Corinth. A focal point was also the collection of international prints from the 19th and 20th centuries with works from Pablo Picasso, Odilon Redon, Maurice Denis and others.
The former agricultural building, today the 'Kleines Schloss' or Small Castle, was reconstructed in its entirety to 1952, but due to its derelict state the main building had to be closed in 1953. In 1958 it was to a large extent demolished. It was historically reconstructed to 1960 with funds from the Gutehoffnungshütte ('Good Hope' steel complex), with its interior in the style of the 1950s.
Thanks to bestowals, at the beginning of the 1960s the museum became the recipient of the collections of Glass of the 20th Century, European Art from the Middle Ages to Modern Times and the Art of Foreign Cultures stemming from the Cologne collector Kasimir Hagen.
At the end of the 60s and under the guidance of the then director of the museum Professor Thomas Grochowiak, paintings from the Die Brücke expressionist group and their followers as well as works from the New Objectivity genre (such as by Otto Dix) and Critical Realism (Käthe Kollwitz) were integrated. With the Rolf Jäger bestowal in 1998 an extensive collection of German Expressionist prints was also received, focusing on the graphic oevre of Otto Pankok.
In 1983 the collecting couple Peter and Irene Ludwig established the Ludwig Institut für Kunst der DDR (Ludwig Institute for Art of the German Democratic Republic) in Oberhausen with a permanent loan of 500 works dedicated to East German art, and brought with them works from Bernhard Heisig, Wolfgang Mattheuer, Willi Sitte and Werner Tübke. In 1996 Peter and Irene Ludwig initiated a new concept for the location in the form of the Ludwig Galerie Schloss Oberhausen.