The prize goes back to the year 1947. This year Max Pechstein (1881–1955), born in Zwickau and meanwhile living in Berlin, became an honorary citizen of his home town. At the same time the art prize was awarded for the first time. Initiated by Pechstein the prize was initially meant to support young artists only. Between 1963 and 1984 the city of Zwickau had to forego its awarding in favor of the art prize of the district Karl-Marx-Stadt (today Chemnitz). Since 1995 Zwickau promotes the support of young artists again; since then the prize is explicitly awarded as advancement award. In doing so the prize focuses on young artists and their artwork which is not yet universally accepted and thus exactly reflects what co-founder Pechstein wanted.
The Max Pechstein Award of the city of Zwickau is awarded as a prize for painting, graphics and artistic projects in German-speaking regions by the mayor of Zwickau. The prize is awarded every two years, twice in succession as Advancement Award for young artists until the age of 30 years, and once as Honorary Award – meaning every six years – for the complete oeuvre of a renowned contemporary artist. Since 2007 the Advancement Award is accompanied by an additional scholarship. Besides the award ceremony all nominees have the chance to show their work during a temporary exhibition in the KUNSTSAMMLUNGEN ZWICKAU Max-Pechstein-Museum.
One of the most important functions of an advancement award is to support contemporary and not yet widely known art. The Zwickau art prize is awarded for the ninth time in 2019.