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Intro
Cuno Amiet biography

A Brief Encounter

Upon entering the light-flooded Foyer of bromer kunst, visitors are welcomed on their right by a large wall photography of Cuno Amiet during one of his painting sessions, receiving every visitor with a captivating look. An illustrated biography with historical photographs and short texts summarizing the eventful life of the artist is presented to the visitors on the surrounding walls. It shows the main stages of the artist’s life, with his respective companions – names such as Winston Churchill, Paul Klee, Hermann Hesse and Wassily Kandinsky are only a few among the important figures from the arts and culture community who accompanied Amiet on his personal and artistic path. This short biography takes a glimpse into the extraordinary life Amiet led, and into his artistic career, which developed parallel to the formation and evolution of modernity.

Foyer with biographic texts and historical photographs of Cuno Amiet (photo: Markus Beyeler)

«Selbstbildnis», 1883, oil on canvas (detail), private collection, Switzerland, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

The beginnings of the artist

On March 28, 1868, Cuno Peter Amiet was born in Solothurn as the youngest son to the archivist and historian Josef Ignaz Amiet from Solothurn and his wife Catherine from Engelberg. Already from an early age on, Cuno Amiet expressed his desire to become a painter. As a 15-year-old, he painted his first self-portrait and only a year after the renowned Solothurn artist Frank Buchser (1828-1890) took him in his studio as a pupil. In autumn 1886, Amiet began his art education at the Academy of fine arts in Munich, where he met his peer and future life-long friend Giovanni Giacometti. Captivated by the French paintings in the International Art Exhibition of the Glaspalast in Munich, the two friends decided in 1888 to continue their studies at the Académie Julian in Paris.

Cuno Amiet with doll, Paris 1889, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Pont-Aven

With an increasing disappointment towards the conservative education received in Paris, Cuno Amiet followed the advice of his colleague Hugo Poll and decided to move in 1892 to Pont-Aven, to the artist guesthouse run by Marie-Jeanne Gloanec. The 24-year-old Amiet spent over a year in this renowned picturesque fisher village in the search of new artistic visions, amidst avant-garde circles. Inspired by the Pont-Aven School, a group of artists around Paul Gauguin, and the prolific exchange of ideas with artist friends such as Emile Bernard, Armand Seguin, Paul Sérusier and Roderic O’Conor, Amiet built himself an entirely new artistic worldview. Out of the abundance of new impressions, he developed a radically new drawing and painting style only a few weeks after his arrival – he turned away from the academic painting style of previous years and began experimenting towards pure colours in a Neo-Impressionist manner.

Cuno Amiet in his studio painting «Die Wäsche» 1906/07, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Return to Switzerland

In June 1893, the young Amiet returned for financial reasons heavy hearted back to Switzerland. He moved into a studio in the little village of Hellsau a year later, as the urbanity of Solothurn had been increasingly constricting him. In the same year, he met through his artist friend Max Leu the painter Ferdinand Hodler, and three years later the artist Giovanni Segantini –  both of these encounters having a great impact on Amiet’s painting style.
In June 1898, Amiet married Anna Luder (1874-1953) from Hellsau, with whom he moved right after to the idyllic hamlet of Oschwand near to Herzogenbuchse. In 1901, Anna Amiet suffered a miscarriage. This difficult experience was addressed by the artist in many fertility allegories as well as many of his later versions of the fruit harvest. 1904, Amiet was invited together with Hodler to the exhibition of the Vienna Secession, where he became acquainted with Gustav Klimt.

1911 on the terrace of Kandinsky's appartment in Munich: Cuno Amiet, Wassily Kandinsky, Helmut Macke, Heinrich Campendok, Louis Moilliet, with Anna Amiet and August Macke in front, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Expressionism and «Die Brücke»

In 1905, a large exhibition with more than 40 works by Amiet was held in the Künstlerhaus Zurich. In the same year, the astounding show travelled to the Galerie Richter in Dresden, where it drew the attention of the only weeks later about to be founded artist group Die Brücke. In September 1906, Amiet was invited by Erich Heckel to join this group and to participate in their first exhibition in the lamp factory Seifert in Dresden. From then on and until the dissolution of the group in 1913, Amiet was consistently on display in all of their exhibitions. Being the Swiss representative of Die Brücke, a movement considered nowadays the pioneer of German expressionism, Cuno Amiet became an important figure of the European avant-garde of the early 20th century. His role in Die Brücke was defined by his selection of expressionist themes and the use of an intense colour palette. Unlike his German colleagues, Amiet’s works were not a subjective expression of a magnified perception, but carriers of a sought-after harmony between colour and form, based in the French tradition.

Greti, painting pupil Philippi, Cuno Amiet, Lydia and Mineli in Oschwand 1917, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Life and work in Oschwand

In 1908, the Amiet couple entrusted the construction of their house in Oschwand to the architect Otto Ingold. Subsequently Oschwand evolved through Amiet’s dynamic personality and Anna's cheerful, hospitable nature, to a meeting place for artists, collectors and writers. Hence some of Amiet's notable guests were Paul Klee, Herman Hesse, Alexej Jawlensky, Marianne von Werefkin or Lovis Corinth.
The adjacent farmhouse was renovated to function as Amiet's studio, where he also taught painting to over 20 pupils over the course of time, including Peter Thalmann, Hans Morgenthaler, Hanny Bay, Marc Gonthier, Albert Müller and Walter Sautter. Amiet's house and its surroundings in Oschwand served him throughout his life as a rich source of inspiration for a large number of paintings.

Cuno Amiet modelling figure studies for «The Harvest» 1913, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Intensive working years

In 1910, Amiet was commissioned to embellish the Loggia of the new Kunsthaus in Zurich. After several rejected designs, he finished his famous Jungbrunnen (Fountain of Youth) in 1918. In 1912 Amiet joined the Swiss artist group Moderner Bund, which foundation in 1911 can be considered as the rise of modernity in Switzerland. The University of Bern bestowed Amiet in 1919 an honorary doctorate as an homage to his outstanding artistic career. In 1922 the Kunsthaus Zurich dedicated the now established artist a comprehensive solo exhibition. For Amiet's 60th birthday in 1928, the Kunstmuseum Bern held an even more extensive exhibition with 462 works, including pieces by his former students and pupils.

Cuno Amiet in his studio in 1931, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

The fire of the Glaspalast in Munich

In 1931 the Münchener Neue Secession dedicated a retrospective to the now 63-years-old Cuno Amiet inside the International Art Exhibition of the Glaspalast in Munich. He commented his choice of works for the loan as follows: «I did not hesitate to gather the best works of my oeuvre. From my first to my last paintings, I have chosen those which represent me most». All of the 51 paintings from the period between 1891 to 1931, including historical pieces from Amiet’s time in Pont-Aven and other major works, fell victim to a fire which destroyed the entire Glaspalast.

Two years after this terrible event, Amiets close friend and life companion Giovanni Giacometti passed away. Despite these tragedies, Amiet did not despair nor give up ­– on the contrary, the subsequent period became a very productive phase for the artist, in which he produced some of his most important works.

Cuno Amiet in his studio painting a self-portrait, 1960, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Late work

Meanwhile, Amiet's life was marked by great success. With extensive exhibitions in Switzerland celebrating him as an established artist, Amiet was commissioned with the realization of a Sgraffito on the topic of the fruit harvest on the facade of the Kunstmuseum Bern. Completed in 1936, the monumental mural represents altogether Amiet's largest work. With the appearance of Bernese farmers during the apple harvest, Amiet managed to illustrate artistically the key notions of Swiss identity, reinforcing simultaneously his role as the leading Swiss national artist. In honour of Amiet's 80th birthday in 1948, the Kunstmuseum Bern held a large retrospective on his career.

Upon the painful experience of the death of his beloved wife Anna Amiet in 1953, came Amiet's last creative phase, which manifested some stylistic similarities to his pointillist early works. In 1960, the Kunsthalle Basel also honoured the artist with a major retrospective - the last exhibition in Amiet's lifetime. After a long and prolific life, Cuno Amiet died on July 6, 1961, at the age of 93 at his home in Oschwand. He was buried in the nearby cemetery with a tombstone designed by Otto Charles Bänninger.

The Amiet family on the «Pic-Pic» of Gertrud Müller at the parade of General Wille in Solothurn, 1914, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Important patrons

Cuno Amiet's artistic excellence granted him the financial support from wealthy art patrons and thus the means to develop his unparalleled career.

Four years after Amiet’s return to Switzerland in 1897, the paper manufacturer Oscar Miller visited the artist in his studio in Solothurn, where he acquired the first of the 300 paintings which marked the beginning of his vast Amiet-collection. Miller identified himself passionately with the artistic views of his painter friend and became a vehement defender and interpreter of his work.

In 1905, the wealthy hardware dealer Richard Kisling from Zurich purchased his first works by Amiet. A lively and friendly exchange between both evolved hereafter, resulting in a large amount of correspondence and an important collection of over a hundred Amiet paintings.

Another important patron and narrow acquaintance of Amiet was Gertrud Dübi-Müller (1888-1980) from an important industrial family from Solothurn. Amiet and Dübi-Müller met on the occasion of the opening exhibition of the Kunstmuseum Solothurn in 1902. From then on Amiet gave her painting classes and conveyed her the admiration for Vincent Van Gogh. Her early interest in art was the starting point of a major art collection, which also included numerous works by Amiet.

Text and image sources
  • Franz Müller; Viola Radlach; Larissa Ullmann, Cuno Amiet: die Gemälde, 1883-1919, Zürich: Scheidegger & Spiess, 2014
  • Urs Zaugg, Cuno Amiet in fotografischen Dokumenten, Herzogenbuchsee: Scheibli + Co., 1985
About artist
Cuno Amiet
Solothurn, CH, 1886 — 1961

Cuno Amiet (1868, Solothurn – 1961, Oschwand) was the first Swiss artist to prioritize colour in composition and preceded the Modern art movement in Switzerland. After completing his first self-portrait at the age of 15, Amiet became Frank Buchser’s student in 1884. During the autumn of 1886, Amiet went to Munich and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1887 he met Giovanni Giacometti, who later became his lifelong friend, and the following year they travelled to Paris together where Amiet began further studies at the Académie Julian. However, following the year 1892 Amiet became increasingly dissatisfied with his academy classes and transferred to Pont-Aven where he discovered Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh and laid the foundations for his colourist painting.
In 1894, Amiet held an exhibition in the Kunsthalle Basel, where his use of overly saturated colours was largely rejected by art critics. Later, in 1898, he was commissioned to create a portrait of Ferdinand Hodler, the subsequent connection between the two artists led to Amiet’s increased interest in Art Nouveau.
In 1905, Amiet held an exhibition at the Galerie Richter in Dresden, where the artists’ group Die Brücke became aware of him. In 1906, Erich Heckel invited Amiet to become a member of the group giving him the opportunity to be part of the first Brücke exhibition, focused on the female nude, in Dresden.
In 1914, Amiet held a solo exhibition at the Kunsthaus Zurich with 124 works on display. In 1919, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern. Today Cuno Amiet is regarded as one of the most important pioneers of classical modernism in Switzerland.