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VAN GOGH, CÉZANNE, MATISSE. The Hahnloser Collection

Category: Exhibition 15. September 2020

In the years between 1906 and 1936 an art-loving Swiss couple, ophthalmologist Arthur Hahnloser and his wife Hedy, gathered one of the largest private art collections, nearly 500 artworks, in their house in Winterthur. Today the collection is considered as one of the most important Swiss private collections of 20th century art and French modernism. It contains essential work cycles of modernist painting, among others by Cézanne, Matisse, van Gogh, Bonnard and Hodler. Now this internationally unique exhibition is on display in the Albertina.

There are about 120 artworks on show, about one fifth of the collection, completed with loans from art-museums in Bern and Winterthur and items from the Albertina collection – providing a consistent insight into this exceptional collection. The exhibition is not arranged by chronology of purchase but by dates of creation and by historical criteria. This structure demonstrates the way Hedy and Arthur built up their collection.

The collectors were friends with many artists whose advice influenced their collecting activity. The artists recommended other artists, like Swiss painter and author Félix Vallotton, who the Hahnloser couple met on recommendation of Giovanni Giacometti at a Cézanne-exhibition in Paris. Vallotton portrayed the couple in their home in Winterthur. These paintings are exhibited at the beginning of the show in the Albertina’s entrance.

Vallotton became their closest advisor, his pictures count among the most prominent of the collection. Their artist friends Giovanni Giacometti and Ferdinand Hodler drew the couple’s attention to the French Impressionists and to Vincent van Gogh. Through Vallotton and the circles of the Nabis and Fauves they met Pierre Bonnard, Henri Manguin and Henri Matisse. Soon they enlarged their collection with the pioneers of French Modernism: Renoir, Gauguin, Cézanne – at a time when this contemporary current of art was not yet established, facing considerable skepticism and hostility by the art market. The couple also motivated other collectors to take an interest in modernism beyond Switzerland’s borders, especially in France.

Relying on their intuition and their instinct for tendencies, they got from one artist to the other. At their visits to artist studios they often purchased entire work cycles. The close contact to the artists and understanding their motivation was very important for the Hahnloser couple.

In 1906 the Hahnlosers donated works to the Winterhtur museum of art, and later on they donated large parts of their collection to the Kunsmuseum Bern. The former director of Kunstmuseum Bern, Matthias Frehner, is also curator of this exhibition. Systematic donations encouraged further purchases by the museums, brought public exposure to the artists and influenced collection policies of public institutions – the « Hahnloser principle » was born. Therefore the Hahnloser couple played an essential role for the establishment of art collections in Switzerland, a country lacking state or aristocratic collections, unlike Austria or France. To a great extent the Hahnloser collection is still family-owned.

At present the Hahnloser family estate, the Villa Flora in Winterthur, is being converted to a museum and the artworks will be permanently exhibited there. It is advisable to visit the Albertina exhibition, as the artworks will not be likely to travel any time soon again. (written by Cem Angeli)

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