The Collection of Prints and Drawings consists of some 80,000 works ranging from the fifteenth century to the present day.
You will regularly find displays from our own collection as well as temporary exhibitions of international art on paper in the Graphic Art Gallery. On top of this the Graphic Art Collection also has a comprehensive collection of video art which has been constantly expanded since 1979.
Art since 1945
The Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft has always been primarily interested in acquiring works by living artists, and works by Swiss exponents such as Giacometti and Varlin, Tinguely and Fischli/Weiss have increasingly been complemented by the work of international artists. One result of this has been a concentrated group of work centred on the new American painting of the fifties and sixties, with the main emphasis being placed on Cy Twombly. Alongside one the last great sculptures by Beuys, Olivestone, hang major works of the next generation of German painters: Polke, Kiefer, Penck and above all Baselitz.
Ever since its foundation in 1787 one of the main goals of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft has been to promote local art. The resurgence of intellectual life experienced by the protestant city of Zurich in the 18th century opened up new vistas for the visual arts in the city: Salomon Gessner’s Idyllen and Johann Heinrich Fuseli’s eccentric classicism both found a resonance throughout Europe. In the mid 19th century it was the turn of international realism to make its mark on Switzerland both in terms of character and quality; the most important representative of this generation, Arnold Böcklin, was also one of the precursors of Symbolism. But it is the turn of the century that sees the highpoint of both Swiss painting and the Kunsthaus collection, represented by figures such as Ferdinand Hodler, Segantini, Vallotton, Amiet, Giovanni and Augusto Giacometti. In addition Zurich Concrete Art, with its strong leaning towards the systematic and abstract, long occupied a dominant position amongst the rich production of the 20th century.
In 1848 the outdated association of cantons that made up the Swiss confederation was replaced by a modern, democratic, federal state; at the same time an extremely talented generation of new young artists began to make a name for itself. The distinctive regional interpretation of international realism found in the work of Anker, Böcklin, Buchser, Koller, Stückelberg, and Zünd amongst others allowed them to break out of the hitherto marginalised status of Swiss art to join the mainstream of European painting. Whilst the subject matter for their art may be regional it nonetheless embodies within it the universal: the Gotthard Post hurtles down a pass that had been open only a few decades, and where for centuries previously only the leisurely plod of cattle hooves had been heard: Koller’s famous painting, The Gotthard Post, is an allegory of the speed of the modern and the tension between old and new.
Zurich Concrete Art
The artistic roots of Zurich Concrete Art go back to the Bauhaus, where several of its representatives studied and which Max Bill sought to reawaken in Ulm after the war. From the manifesto “Art concret” of Theo van Doesburg Bill adopted the term “concrete” to convey the idea that a work of art does not derive from nature but is an autonomous reality composed of colour and form, an “object for intellectual and spiritual use”. Whilst Bill and Richard Lohse turned increasingly to mathematical processes to produce images, Verena Loewensberg and Camille Graeser preferred a more playful, intuitive approach. The highly sensitive artist Fritz Glarner was closely connected with Piet Mondrian; thanks to the legacy of his widow, the course of this development is comprehensively documented in the Kunsthaus.
Impressionism and Post-Impressionism
The modernity of Hodler’s art had a significant influence on the taste of Swiss art lovers and after 1900 many turned their attention to the new French painting, a move significantly reinforced by the art exhibitions staged by the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft. However, the modest funds available were rarely sufficient to acquire works from these exhibitions for the collection. Nonetheless, thanks above all to bequests from individual collectors such as Dr. Hans Schuler in 1920 and Johanna and Walter L. Wolf in 1984, and gifts from Alfred Jöhr and Walter Haefner amongst others, the Kunsthaus now boasts an important group of French paintings in the that ranges from Géricault to Manet through to the Impressionists and the Nabis. Ten works by Monet form the highpoint, but works by the trail-blazing Post-Impressionists Cézanne and van Gogh are also well represented. This ensemble is marked less by the quantity than by the high quality of the individual works.
Wilhelm Wartmann, director of the Kunsthaus from 1908 to 1950, placed the main emphasis of his collecting activities on the expressive depiction of the human face and form found in Hodler and Fuseli, late gothic painting and contemporary Nordic expressionism. Edvard Munch took pride of place in this latter category, while amongst the younger representatives it was above all Oskar Kokoschka that he supported: a large representative selection of works from both artists can be seen at the Kunsthaus. Alongside these are several works by Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and the Basel group Rot-Blau.
The Kunsthaus has always fulfilled a dual role as both exhibition centre and museum, in which exhibitions of new art have always set the tone, and it was in this vein that the first museum retrospective of Picassos was held in 1932. The success of this and a subsequent exhibition of the work of Ferdinand Léger in the following year enabled the Kunsthaus to acquire an important work of art from each of these artists, just as it had in 1925 when it acquired a painting by Matisse for the collection. In the post-War period additional purchases were made to enhance and extend the collection to cover groups of work by Mondrian, Klee, Chagall and the Surrealists; since 1980 the Kunsthaus has widely documented DADA, the movement that began in Zurich in 1916.
A representative overview of Dutch 17th century painting is rounded off with individual gallery pictures by Rubens, van Dyck, Brouwer and still lifes from Snyders, Fyt and Seghers. It is rare to find such an exquisite group of paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder; in his woodland scenes it is possible to discern the importance of his work for the poetic exploration of landscape and the creation of atmospheric unity that emerges in landscape painting at the beginning of the 17th century.
Golden Age of Dutch Painting
Bourgeois-realist Dutch painting was much more to the taste of the Swiss republican palate than feudal baroque; but it was only thanks to the collection of Professor Leopold Ruzicka, a leading chemist and Nobel prize winner, that the Kunsthaus came into possession of top quality works by Rembrandt, Ruisdael, van de Cappelle, Kalf and other masters. Since then we have also had the good fortune to be able to supplement these with works by de Heem, Berchem, de Hooch and others.
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