In preparation for the inaugural departure of ACE’s tour exploring Art & Landscape in Switzerland this July, our Tour Director, art historian and curator Suzanne Fagence Cooper, recently travelled to Bern. Here, she describes her journey and what participants can expect on this delightful new tour.
From the glittering reflections on Lake Luzern to the undulating green roof of the Zentrum Paul Klee, Switzerland is a visual feast. The landscape of mountains and meadows unfolds as we travel by train – a new bright scene at the end of every tunnel. This is why so many poets and painters have made the journey into the Alps. We are following in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley, Turner and Ruskin.
When we arrive in Bern itself, our base for the trip, we find the city perched high above the glacial blue waters of the River Aare. Our hotel is at the very heart of the arcades, a few minutes from the Minster. We can hear the church bells in the evening from the roof top bar. The city is a delight. There are breath-taking views of the great Alps on a clear day. A clear stream of water runs down the main road, with ornate fountains at every junction.
It is an easy walk to the Kunstmuseum, where we discover the rich and complex history of art collecting in Switzerland. There is a stunning room with works by Van Gogh, a gallery of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, and, downstairs, a thoughtful selection of works by 20th century American artists, including a magnificent Rothko. We can also start to understand the role of Swiss painters, like Fernand Hodler, in the story of modern art. The highlight, for me, is stumbling upon new and unexpected works, like the glacier and lake paintings by Annie Stebler-Hopf and Martha Stettler. Both women trained in Paris, before returning home to create remarkable responses to the landscape.
Martha Stettler, Dans le Jardin du Luxembourg
In the galleries of Bern, Luzern and Basel, we regularly encounter works that make us stop and take stock. When I visited the Holbein room of the Kunstmuseum in Basel recently, I was fortunate to be the only person there – so I could spend as long as I liked with Erasmus, and Holbein’s wife and children. These are the moments we remember. It might be one of the early Picassos, or a Brueghel, or a Frank Stella, or an installation by Joseph Beuys that catches our eye, and draws us in.
View from Mount Rigi
Or perhaps it will be the view of Mount Rigi across the water of Lake Luzern. That was the scene that Turner kept coming back to paint, in different lights, at dawn or sunset. For many people, Ruskin included, these watercolours of the mountain and its reflection are some of the most sublime of Turner’s works. A day in Luzern allows us to experience this natural beauty together with the intimate collection of Picassos, Klees and Chagalls in the Rosengart gallery.
Works by Chagall in the Rosengart gallery
And, back at the hotel, it is possible to enjoy a glass or two of excellent Swiss wine. Very few bottles are exported – it is another treasure that the Swiss like to keep to themselves. As Emma Sdegno has recently written about Ruskin and his engagement with the Alpine landscape, it “involves the whole body as well as the eye”.
All images © Suzanne Fagence Cooper
Dans le Jardin du Luxembourg, Martha Stettler. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.