Brighten the corners: Swiss collection shown in a new light


By AGENCY

At the Hermitage, the 19th-century villa’s large bay windows give free rein to the same play of light that inspired the Impressionists. Photo: AFP

The Langmatt’s prestigious collection of Impressionist masterpieces is being seen in a new light, literally, after leaving the museum in northern Switzerland on loan for the first time.

Around 50 paintings, including works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet and Edgar Degas, are being shown in brighter surroundings at the Hermitage Foundation in Lausanne while the Langmatt undergoes renovation.

“I’ve never seen the paintings in this light,” said Markus Stegmann, the Langmatt’s director.

The collection has never been seen outside the cocoon of the Langmatt villa in Baden, near Zurich, where the artworks are displayed under the light of crystal chandeliers and latticed windows.

At the Hermitage, overlooking the western Swiss city of Lausanne, the 19th-century villa’s large bay windows give free rein to the same play of light that inspired the Impressionists.

The collection includes Renoir’s The Braid (1886-1887), Monet’s Ice Floes At Twilight (1893) and Gauguin’s Still Life With Bowl Of Fruit And Lemons (1889-1890).

The new exhibition at the Hermitage Foundation pays tribute to the 150 years since the start of the Impressionist art movement. Photo: AFPThe new exhibition at the Hermitage Foundation pays tribute to the 150 years since the start of the Impressionist art movement. Photo: AFP

The exhibition, which runs until Nov 3, pays tribute to not only the 150 years since the start of the Impressionist art movement but also to Sidney and Jenny Brown, the couple who amassed the collection between 1908 and 1919.

Art from the heart

A wealthy family from the industrial bourgeoisie of northern Switzerland, the Browns showed exceptional taste.

All the works “were bought with the heart” rather than on the advice of art experts, Stegmann said.

Take for example Eugene Boudin’s Washerwomen On The Bank Of The Touques (1895), showing the women leaning over the water with a smoking factory in the background.

Bought by the Browns during their Paris honeymoon in 1896, the painting “is not an easy work, it’s not a loveable work”, said Hermitage Foundation director Sylvie Wuhrmann.

The Browns also collected works by the Munich Secession association of visual artists, before becoming exclusively passionate about contemporary French artists.

Young visitors learning about an artwork by Renoir entitled 'La Natte' (The Braid). Photo: AFPYoung visitors learning about an artwork by Renoir entitled 'La Natte' (The Braid). Photo: AFP

Renoir became a big favourite, alongside Cezanne and Camille Pissarro.

The couple’s devotion to Impressionism was not without risk in society circles where such artists raised eyebrows.

Change of style

Alongside The Boat (circa 1878) and the portraits of his children, Renoir’s The Braid is among the most recognisable works in the collection.

It is inspired by the classicist works of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, and it has even been nicknamed the Langmatt Mona Lisa.

It also goes well with the Hermitage’s own collection: the Lausanne museum has an exceptional set of 17 paintings and drawings by Suzanne Valadon, the model depicted in The Braid.

In 1919, for reasons difficult to pin down, the Browns changed their tastes. Out went Impressionism and in came 18th-century French painters.

They sold eight artworks, including paintings by Renoir and Cezanne, to buy Young Girl With A Cat (circa 1770) by Jean-Honore Fragonard, which is also being shown in Lausanne.

This collection of primarily Impressionist works were acquired in the years 1908-1919 by collectors Jenny and Sidney Brown. Photo: AFPThis collection of primarily Impressionist works were acquired in the years 1908-1919 by collectors Jenny and Sidney Brown. Photo: AFP

And the couple asked the Austrian artist Max Oppenheimer to paint their portrait in a style mixing Expressionism and Cubism.

In 1941, Sidney Brown died and Jenny Brown stopped buying art, living as a recluse at the Langmatt villa until her own death in 1968 aged 96.

Firmer financial footing

When Stegmann reached out for a temporary home for the Langmatt’s paintings during the villa’s renovation, the Hermitage enthusiastically said yes as it celebrates its own 40th anniversary.

Stegmann said the collaboration also made it possible to publish a comprehensive catalogue by experts on the Langmatt collection, something the Baden museum did not have the means to do alone.

In November, facing serious financial difficulties, the museum sold three Cezannes at auction in New York.

Fruits Et Pot De Gingembre (1890-1893) fetched US$38.9mil (RM183mil), Quatre Pommes Et Un Couteau (circa 1885) sold for US$10.4mil (RM49mil), and La Mer A l’Estaque (1878-1879) raised US$3.2mil (RM15mil).

At the time, Stegmann called the sale a painful last resort to secure the museum’s long-term future.

After Lausanne, the collection will be shown in Cologne, Germany, from March to July 2025, and then in Vienna from September next year to February 2026, before returning home to Baden. – AFP

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