ONE of these days I’m really going to have to thank the directors of the Hermitage Foundation in Lausanne for scheduling their best exhibitions of impressionist art at moments of personal celebration in my life.
Last year I had the pleasure of seeing Immersed in Color: Signac’s sublime art at the Hermitage on my birthday in March. This year, just in time for my wedding anniversary in April, they very thoughtfully opened Masterpieces of the Bührle Collection, which continues at the Foundation until 29 October. It seems that our mutual timing could not be better.
A happy reunion of priceless artworks
The exhibition also led to a happy reunion with a painting I’d been smitten with when I first saw it at the converted mansion in a Zürich suburb where industrialist Emil Georg Bührle (1890-1956) originally displayed his extensive collection of paintings and sculptures.
Open to whomever might walk in off the streets with nary a security guard in sight, the ‘museum’ was burgled at gun point on 10 February 2008. Of the four masterpieces stolen, including Cezanne’s Boy in a Red Vest and Monet’s Field of Poppies near Vétheuil, two were left behind in a nearby car park, but it was only in April 2012 that an international police operation recovered the remaining two in Belgrade.
It had been a great relief that my ‘favorite’ had not been among the stolen ones and I was looking forward to seeing it and the recovered paintings together again in a beautiful setting not unlike their original home in Zürich.
Pride of place in the Hermitage exhibition
The painting — Sewer with Setting Sun by Vincent Van Gogh — that had so mesmerized me in 2006 has been prominently positioned in the Hermitage Exhibition, as befitting its iconic status.
Aside from its captivating, highly unusual color scheme and its references to Japanese art, I learned from the excellent audio guide (E/Fr/D, with one for children in French) that it also alludes to van Gogh’s uncertainty over whether he would live to see his work bear fruit in terms of success and recognition, much as the sewer cannot be sure he will reap the harvest of the crop he’s sewn.
So the exhibition invites us not just to admire but also to learn by immersing ourselves in these masterworks of 19th and early 20th-century French Impressionism and post-Impressionism by Pissarro, Manet, Degas, Sisley, Monet and Renoir, and also by the founding fathers of modernism — Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Comparing portrait techniques
Two rooms of the Hermitage exhibition are devoted to exploring the role of the paintings in the history of European art. One room focuses specifically on portraits, showing the Impressionists’ place within that genre’s long tradition extending from Hals to Ingres, Corot, Courbet, Fantin-Latour and finally Renoir.
The second room illustrates the influence of Romanticism and realism on the emergence of modern painting with a display of paintings by Delacroix and Daumier. Elsewhere we look at artworks reflecting techniques at the start of the 20th century with key works by the Nabis (Bonnard, Vuillard), Fauves (Braque, Derain, Vlaminck) and Paris School (Modigliani, Picasso, Toulouse-Lautrec).
The top floor of the Hermitage looks at the history of the collection itself and the evolving tastes of E.G. Bührle, displaying archival material and the results of twelve years of in-depth research conducted by the E. G. Bührle Foundation that reveals the sometimes complex histories of some of the artworks displayed including forgeries and repatriated artworks post-World War II.
It’s a privelege to be able to see these paintings in such an intimate setting. When it ends on 29 October the collection will move to Japan before being reassembled with other masterworks from the extensive Bührle collection in a permanent, new, purpose-built wing of Zürich’s Kunsthaus in 2020. See it at the Hermitage while you can. ♥
Masterpieces of the Bührle Collection
7 April — 29 October 2017
2, rte du Signal, CH-1000 Lausanne 8
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Main photo caption: Claude Monet, Field of poppies near Vétheuil, around 1879, oil on canvas, 73x92cm, Fondation Collection E.G. Bührle, Zurich, photo SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn).