Kunsthaus Zürich – details of my favorite paintings

Hello everyone! All the things you need to know about Kunsthaus Zürich, for example, how to walk around in the museum (floor plan), what are the masterpieces etc., is in my previous post “Zürich Kunsthaus (Zürich Art Museum)”, if you’re interested in these info please just click on it. In this post it will be mostly about my favorite paintings and the details of them.

For more info about the opening hours, tickets, address, contact etc, please click here to view the official website.

Zürich Kunsthaus is home to a lot of artworks created by world-known artists such as, Domenichino, Edouard Manet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Heinrich Füssli, Giovanni Giacometti, Claude Monet, Giovanni Segantini, Edvard Munch, Marc Chagall, Ferdinand Hodler, Arnold Böcklin, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti, Wassily Kandinsky, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso etc.

As I mentioned before, if you have time, you should definitely rent an audio guide and listen to the stories about the painting and the painter. It gives you a better understanding of the painting and painter.For the painting, the audio guide draws your attention to some tiny but essential details that you have ignored before. For the painter, the audio guide tells you his or her life and social background, which add mystery or more meaning to the painting, thus making it more attractive and interesting.

This time I spent several hours in the museum, not looking at the paintings one by one but listening to the audio guide and watching the ones that I love closely. I have to say this is the first time that I read so much into the paintings. I took close pictures of the paintings so that you can see how these famous painters used their brush to create such masterpieces step by step. Well, I can’t remember all the things that the audio guide talked about, and some special terms about painting just did’t ring a bell in my head, so I’m just gonna mention one or two sentences that I heard about the paintings that I’m gonna show you in details next.

The description without quotes are either what I heard from the audio guide or what I think about the paintings and the description with quotation marks are either from Google Arts & Culture or Kunsthaus Zürich official website. Again, I never studied art or painting so if my description is wrong or has some problems, please write me and let me know.

Another thing is that, this post is gonna be really long with a lot of pictures and the total description amounts to more than 4900 words. If you don’t have time, you can read some first and come back or you can just choose the paintings you like and read about them. Now let’s start our virtual tour of the art in Kunsthaus Zürich.

1. Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (Vincent van Gogh) (with audio guide)

This is one of my favorite paintings in Kunsthaus Zürich and this is one of the few self-portrait paintings by Vincent van Gogh showing his injured ear. In his later works, he seems to hide it. In this painting, he doesn’t portray himself as a painter with a brush in hand but an ordinary person in a blue fur hat and coat. There’s a sharp color contrast between the yellow and red background and his green coat and exploring green eyes.

2. Thatched Sandstone Cottages at Chaponval (Vincent van Gogh) (with audio guide)

I think everyone knows van Gogh’s tragic life and how he ended it. This is among his last paintings and he mentioned it in the last letter mailed to his brother. You can see from this painting that everything is moving downwards, the roofs, the grass, even the sky. The two boys at the left bottom corner are looking down and obviously struck by poverty. The whole painting looks heavy and pressing, which probably indicates the painter’s mood when he was painting it. Three days after van Gogh wrote the letter to his brother, he shot himself and left dead for two day before being noticed. I guess van Gogh is one of the few painters whose biography is so closely connected  to his artworks.

The red haired boy is interpreted as van Gogh himself, totally trapped in this overwhelmingly hopeless and helpless condition.

3. Rochefort’s Escape (Edouard Manet) (with audio guide)

Besides its political influence, it’s just surprising for me that how can a few brushes make the waves so vivid. There are actually two versions of this painting by Manet and the smaller one is in Musée d’Orsay in Paris. As you can see from the people on the boat, only the main character’s face is clearly visible while the other characters are portrayed vague.

For more info about this painting please click here.

4. Music on Karl Johan Street (Edvard Munch) (with audio guide)

Unlike Manet or Monet, Edvard Munch tried to avoid a mass of people and instead he created an emptiness in the centre of the picture. A large crowd of people were pressed on the street against the houses. At the right bottom corner, a boy seems to be left out of the picture and he is said to be the resemblance of Edvard Munch himself during his childhood.

For more info about this painting please click here.

5. Titania, Bottom and the Fairies (Heinrich Füssli) (with audio guide)

Heinrich Füssli likes to use the fairytales of William Shakespeare as themes of his painting. For example, this one – Titania, Bottom and the Fairies. Titania was the fairy queen and her jealous husband, the king of the fairies – Oberon cast a spell on her as revenge. On the up right corner of the painting you can see an evil face – Puck, who serves Oberon and derived from the flowers a love potion, which makes Titania fall in love with the first living thing she sees when she wakes up. In the picture, you can see Titania is madly in love with the craftsman whose head is a donkey. Oberon did this for humiliating Titania for her disobedience.

For more info about this painting please click here (very interesting story).

6. The Water Lily Pond in the Evening (Claude Monet) (with audio guide)

This painting is 6 meters long and 2 meters high, which make it 12 square meters in scale.

The work explodes the proportions that are associated with the picture as ‘window’. The horizon is entirely absent. The acute angle of view causes the water surface and picture plane to merge. We do not take in the painting at a single glance, but must move along it to appreciate it as a whole. The eye meanders through the chromatic space, where representational alternates with non-representational.

– Google Arts & Culture

There is an interesting story behind these there water lily paintings here in Kunsthaus Zürich. Dr. René Wehrli, the director of Kunsthaus Zürich, went to Giverny, where Claude Monet lived and this journey turned out to be unforgettable. He fell into a pond from a bridge, which happens right to be the water lily pond of Monet’s famous series of paintings. He then acquired three of the water lily pond paintings and donated two of them to Kunsthaus Zürich.

For more info about this painting please click here.

7. White Cottages at Saintes-Maries (Vincent van Gogh)

As for the size, this is a quite small painting compared to others but it has its own indispensable significance in the painting career of Vincent van Gogh.

for these huts in Saintes-Maries, with their vibrant blues and oranges, signalled the start of a new phase in Vincent van Gogh’s oeuvre. Here for the first time he emphasises and exploits to the full the extreme contrasts of blue and orange, red and green, white and black.

Google Arts and Culture

For more info about this painting please click here.

8. Still Life with Lobster 1655/1656 (Cornelis de Heem)

Cornelis de Heem’s painting is famous for being so vivid and real that you even want to reach the canvas and grab the things. In this amazing dutch painting, you would ask how can a human being paint something which looks like a photo. The lobster, so vivid and yet lifeless, the table cloth, the shrimps, the peeled orange, the silver plate, the handle of the silver knife and the grapes. When you take a close look at all the items you will realize what a fancy dining table this is. Though with so many items, the table doesn’t appear to be crowded and everything is properly arranged.

It was painted on an expensive support – a copper plate – which further enhances the vibrancy and freshness of the colours, especially the prominent base tones of red, blue and yellow.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

9. Two Jaguars 1639 (Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp) (with audio guide)

There is a obvious contrast between the two jaguars in this painting. The upper one is very nervous and intensive. You can see from the eyes (looking directly at the viewer), clenched teeth, firm legs on the ground and tail rising up. The lower one is rather relaxed. You can see from her head, open mouth (you can see her tongue and inside) and the relaxed legs and paws. If you take a look at the paws, legs and the fur closely, you will see how detailed they are and you will begin to wonder how long had the painter being watching them. One thing in question is that how could Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp see such exotic animals in the Netherlands in 1639?

The first examples were probably brought home to the Netherlands of South America from Brazilian expeditions during the Dutch colonization. Perhaps Cuyp saw his subjects in the celebrated menagerie of the governor of The Hague.

Cuyp’s immense talent is evident in this painting, in which the depiction of the jaguars’ fur shows the highest mastery. The fine hairs in the animals’ beards, their claws, the underside of a paw, and reflections of light are also rendered with great skill and attention to detail.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

10. The Holy Family (Peter Paul Rubens) (with audio guide)

This painting combines reality together with the story in the Bible. On the left upper corner of this painting, you can see a perfect example of Flemish Baroque, the trees, the old house with a thatched roof, the dark sky with lightning, which predicts an upcoming storm. However, Rubens blocked the other upper half of the painting, which was supposed to be the rest of the scenery, with the wall of a building and a curtain, and this also indicates something private is happening. Mary and Jesus dominate the painting, in which you can see Jesus turned away from his nursing mom and stares at the viewer and Mary is looking at the angel bringing apples and grapes.

The apples stand for the lost Arcadia, while the grapes symbolize the wine of the Last Supper.
To the right, Rubens has closed off the picture with a simple architecture. Here we see Joseph, almost in profile. He looks on meditatively, thus embodying the attitude of reverence that the viewer, too, was expected to observe.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

11. Reception of an Ambassador Before the Doge’s Palace 1730 (Giovanni Antonio Canaletto) (with audio guide)

The most amazing feature of this painting is its details. The Doge’s Palace is still in Venice and if you go there and see it by yourself, you will fell this painting captures every column and detail of it. From this picture, you can see the palace, the church, the crowds, the gondolas, the streets, the sea, but you can not see who was the ambassador or whose arrival was to be celebrated. However, from the fancy luxurious gondolas and the crowds of people, you know he or she is definitely someone of very high ranking. I showed my friend the fifth picture of the church below and he was amazed by how detailed it was painted, and the I show him the whole painting and told him that the church is just part of it. You can imagine how much time and efforts Giovanni Antonio Canaletto spent when this masterpiece was created.

12. Landscape with the Baptism of Christ, around 1603 (Domenichino) (with audio guide)

Domenichino’s first great landscape painting of the baptism of Christ is a milestone in the development of ideal landscape painting, the culmination of which can be seen in the first version of Claude Lorrain’s pastoral work featuring the Arch of Constantine.

– Kunsthaus Zürich

The landscape of this painting is featured by Italian Baroque style. In this painting, John the baptist is kneeling down on one knee and Jesus was kneeling down with his hands crossed on his chest. Behind Jesus are three man, one woman, one child and one boy. You can also see another man getting undressed and is waited for his own baptism. There are some other figures in this painting, who seem to be minding their own business and neglecting this historical moment, which also indicates that baptism is already a daily routine event. High above in this painting you can see god with the gate to heaven shining and open, with his blessing passed in the form of a dove. The river, land, mountains far away shown an infinity in space.

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

13. The Gotthard Post 1873 (Rudolf Koller) (with audio guide)

This painting is among the favorite paintings of swiss people because it shows a typical example of the alpine country.

The new road was celebrated as a masterpiece of engineering. Koller here depicts the acceleration it made possible by having the vehicle overtake a herd of cows as it plunges down the valley. The varieties of movement shown – the plodding cows and the racing coach – amplify the painting’s dramatic effect. The panicked calf serves Koller as an anecdotal focus for his illustration of speed. The coach is heading straight for the viewer along the steep zigzag of the pass, and, under full steam and heavily laden as it is, threatens to overshoot the curve, as apparently exemplified by the direction in which the driver is holding his whip.

– Google Arts & Culture

However, the experience that this painting demonstrates is far away from the true situation of traveling on the Gotthard Post. One of Rudolf Koller’s initial ideas was actually portraying a guest stop on the way, which shows an image much closer than this one to the real experience of traveling on the Gotthard Post and to the safe and reliable transportation means, “moving over 70,000 travellers a year across the 2,100-metre pass”.

Koller’s Gotthard Post was commissioned by Switzerland’s Northeastern Railway as a farewell gift to Alfred Escher, the Swiss tycoon who was leaving to help found and finance the Gotthard railway. Koller deliberately avoided including any direct reference to the modernizing influence of rail, preferring instead to create an allegory of the acceleration of means of transport.

– Google Arts & Culture

However, Rudolf Koller himself is not particularly satisfied with this painting and he even said the best part is its title. Despite of his own criticism, because of an perfect example of the safe passage among the Swiss alps it shows and the advanced Swiss engineering success it demonstrates, this painting has enjoyed long popularity.

For more info about this painting please click the links above.

14. Two Girls on the Stove Bench 1895 (Albert Anker)

In Albert Anker’s paintings, it is suggested that the objects or models were secretly observed at that moment. Like in this painting, the two girls were deeply asleep. With the dark background and warm light, the main figures of this painting, the sisters, stand out. Albert Anker is loved, in his paintings, for his description of simple Swiss life, rural scenes, and of children. Sometimes he set his own children or grandchildren as models.

Without superimposing religious overtones on the peasants’ hard lives or conveying social criticism, he presents peaceful groups of people of different ages with dignity, founded on his interest in humanity and his underlying Christian faith.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

15. The Rhone Glacier around 1775 (Heinrich Wüest) (with audio guide)

This painting emphasizes the great power of nature, the Rhone glacier, the rocks and the vast sky with dark clouds. Some people are walking on the glacier, watching it, talking about it, appreciating it, while some are trying to capture it by painting it. All of them are trying to know more about it and explore it further. Besides, another main function of placing these people into this painting is to make a comparison and emphasize the scale of the glacier, thus, the nature.

In this painting we encounter nature not only in the riven masses of ice but also in the dramatically clouded sky. Dark storm clouds tower up at the high horizon, leading our gaze upwards to lose itself in the tender blue of the sky.

The Enlightenment prompted a fundamental scientific reinterpretation of the natural environment, one that informs our thinking to this day. Research expeditions and the publication of numerous works on the subject bear witness to this new understanding. Yet against this backdrop, art also evolved a romanticizing exaggeration that not infrequently culminated in gushingly religious pathos.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

16. Still Life with Flowers and Idol around 1892 (Paul Gauguin)

This painting was influenced by Gauguin’s trip to Tahiti in 1891. The culture and tradition there left a lasting impression on him and he decided to live there not the island permanently till his death. A lot of his paintings, drawings and sculpture are about this place.

A mysterious profile with a phosphorescent yellow eye peers out from behind a bouquet of exotic flowers, the apparition holding another flower against a violet background. The combination of a frequently demonic or enigmatic visage with a still life – a genre in which human beings are normally present only in the traces of things – occurs in Gauguin’s work from an early stage.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

17. Montagne Sainte-Victoire (Paul Cézanne)

In his late years, Cézanne frequently painted the Sainte-Victoire mountain which rises above his native Aix-en-Provence. If you have been to that region (for example, the villages on or below the mountains), you will soon recognize them when you see Cézanne’s paintings. His magic brush can create such beautiful and vivid scenes by several strokes. There are so many colors and yet they seem to cooperate with each other and mix well with each other, thus providing us viewers a harmonious picture.

Through the use of separate brushstrokes to build up his compositions from flat individual flecks of colour he pushed the Impressionist’s dissolution of form a stage further; the underlying forms of the landscape, dominant colour harmonies and compositional structure all unfold with just a few strokes of the brush. Every subsequent step refines and concentrates on these pre-established harmonies.

– Kunsthaus Zürich

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

18. Winter in Maloja 1910 (Giovanni Giacometti)

Giovanni Giacometti, the father of the famous sculptor Alberto Giacometti (whose work you can see in this post as well “Walking Man, Standing Woman”), together with Giovanni Segantini and Cuno Amiet, are three important Swiss artists by the turn of the 20th century, at which time, color plays a key role.

He was influenced by his two fellow painters, drawing on Segantini’s Pointillism and Amiet’s coarser, dynamic brushwork and coloration influenced by van Gogh and Gauguin.

– Google Arts & Culture

If you look at the details of this painting, you will notice the objects are constructed by dots brushed on the canvas. Going closer and closer, you will realize even the shadows of the house are so colorful, but when the painting is viewed as whole, it’s hard to notice.

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

19. Above Vitebsk 1922 (Marc Chagall) (with audio guide)

Marc Chagall is a Russian-French Jewish artist, whose stained glass windows in Fraumünster and selection of paintings in Zürich Kunsthaus make Zürich one of the world centers for Chagall’s artworks. This picture belongs to a series of this kind of paintings after his return to his hometown in 1914. The over-sized jewish man with a sack flies over the houses, implying an escape from reality. The onion domes of the church, the houses surrounding it, the traffic traces on the snow covered road, the whole picture reminds me of magic and a world in fantasy.

20. The Wedding Candles (Marc Chagall) (with audio guide)

Marc Chagall created this painting after one year of his wife’s death. In this painting, the bride stands out in the white gown. Around the bride are musicians, a couple at the bottom, a fairy with huge wings drinking wine, a man playing flute from up world, the candle light and the sun. If you don’t look at this painting in detail, you might ignore some of the characters easily as they are combined in harmony with each other within the whole painting.

The other Painting I wanna recommend to you is called “The War” also by Chagall, but because of the reflection of light on the painting, I didn’t take photos. It’s a quite big painting and is in the same room as the two paintings I showed you here. In this painting, you can see the suffering of people brought by war and you can also see a white goat, on whose back, people are smiling and happy. People on the back of the goat and people in the war fire are appearing to be dramatically different, thus indicating that the white goat is the savor and protector, keeping those people from killing and suffering.

21. Girl knitting 1888 (Giovanni Segantini)

Giovanni Segantini had a rather unpleasant childhood as both of his parents died before he turned 8, and then he was sent to relatives in Milan and lived in a community home. He did receive recognition and encouragement as a young artist in Milan. However, it is when he returned to the mountain area Graubünden, Switzerland, that he began to realize where his heart belongs to. Here he created painting s about mountains, nature, villages, rural life, mountain folks and the animals. He avoids the theme of urban life or big cities, because he knows that’s not what his heart seeks.

The painting Girl knitting is one of his most famous artworks and the girl is his favorite model, his maid Baba Uffer.

The picture, its sense of nostalgia undimmed by the passing of time, is also a superb example of Segantini’s divisionist painting, in which each area of colour resolves itself into countless fine flecks of paint and nuances. The juxtaposition of complementary hues – the blue dress, for example, is shot through with orange lines – and the simultaneous contrast enhance the vibrancy of the colours and underscore the shimmering sunlight of the mountains.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

22. Alpine Pasture 1893/1894 (Giovanni Segantini)

Kunsthaus Zürich hold 12 of Giovanni Segantini’s artworks and among them, “Girl knitting” and this one “Alpine Pasture” are the two most popular ones. In this painting, however, if you visit the same spot where the painter stood to view the scene, you won’t see the scenery like this. This is because Giovanni Segantini did not “copy” nature directly, instead, he combined other scenes and added them to this painting.

Fractures of light and shadow emphasize the horizontal format of the composition. A mountain crest bathed in sunlight runs along the entire width and conveys the impression of infinity – and at the same time the insignificance of human beings. The harshness and rigors of nature are reflected in the figure of the exhausted young shepherd, vibrating heath spreads over animals and vegetation. Segantini achieved the sensuous impression with his own painterly technique, which he evolved under the influence of the divisionist theories. In this late impressionist method the palette is restricted to basic colours. Or divided into complementary contrasting colours and the paint is applied as dots. The desired colour effect only occurs when the picture is viewed from the distance. The long threads of pure colour which Segantini combined, give the motive a sensuous materiality. The addition of gold and silver, for instance in the hair of the shepherd boy, heightens the impression of crystalline light in the thin air.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

23. The Summer Evening Bath 1892/1893 (Félix Vallotton) (with audio guide)

Originally from Lausanne, Félix Vallotton was a close associate of the Nabis. He was an opponent of Impressionism, believing that its devotion to the landscape risked losing sight of social reality. He therefore emphasized realism to such an extent that his exhibitions routinely prompted minor scandals, as with this painting, which was shown at the Salon des Indépendants in 1893. It was, after all, a biting commentary on the landscape painting of the time, and on fin-de-siècle society. Vallotton’s exquisite caricature takes aim at a bourgeois bathing idyll. What must have made the scene even more shocking was the fact that the hairstyles, facial expressions and figures of the ladies mark them out as characteristic representatives of contemporary society.

– Google Arts & Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

24. Grainstack in Sunlight (Claude Monet) (with audio guide)

25. Waterlilies Pond (Claude Monet)

26. The Water Lily Pond with Irises (Claude Monet)

27. The Cypress and Flowering Tree (Vincent van Gogh)

28. Walking Man & Standing Woman (Alberto Giacometti) (with audio guide)

29. Evening at Geneva Lake (Ferdinand Hodler) (with audio guide)

30. The Road (Alfred Sisley) (with audio guide)

31. Falstaff in the Laundry Basket (Heinrich Füssli) (with audio guide)

32. The Evil Mothers (Giovanni Segantini) (with audio guide)

33. Five Bathers (Paul Cézanne)

34. Signac and His Friends on the Sailing Boat around 1924 (Pierre Bonnard)

In the surprising composition with the sailing boat the bold division of planes still imposes itself, but above all it is possible to see the development of the more colourful and painterly qualities of his mature years.

– Kunsthaus Zürich

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

35. The Gate 1889 (Paul Gauguin)

Whereas van Gogh was concerned to deepen the Impressionist view of reality through the exaltation of his spiritual, psychic vision, Gauguin and his circle consciously strove to create a new style that would combine the elemental decorative forms of European folk art or Japanese woodcuts with the symbolic use of forms of the Middle Ages.

The image of The Gate, from which the painting takes its title, is not merely a picturesque distortion of reality; rather, its expressive quality lends the space surrounding the young woman an almost iconic status. The colours and forms glow, as in a fairytale, with a wonderful distinctness; as if blessed with a soul the rock holds the gate with its arm and calls to mind the menhirs of ancient Brittany, possessed by pagan spirits. The fenced-in meadow contrasts with the boundless freedom of the white sailing ship on the distant sea, a metaphor for the wanderlust that was soon to drive Gauguin to a Tahiti permeated by an animistic belief in the spirit world.

– Kunsthaus Zürich

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

36. Margot 1907 (Henri Matisse)

The Kunsthaus presents Matisse above all as a sculptor: viewing his smaller sculptures alongside the four large reliefs Nu de dos I–IV enables the visitor to trace the natural process whereby organic corporeality increasingly evolves into a large independent physical presence.

In the paintings this enhancement of purely artistic means is manifested in an emphasis on the two-dimensionality, colour and ornamental quality of the lines. Out of this creative interplay arises this “harmony parallel to nature” with which modern artists sought to displace mere imitation of nature. Whilst this ability is fully developed in the picture of his daughter Margot, the important earlier still life Buffet et table of 1899 shows this talent unfolding.

– Kunsthaus Zürich

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

37. Supper in Dresden 1983 (Georg Baselitz) (with audio guide)

German artist Georg Baselitz belongs to the generation of painters who returned to figurative painting in the late 1970s after decades of abstract painting dominating the art scene. He is particularly well known for turning his subjects on their head, thus giving his pictures an abstract touch by bringing painting as such to the fore, and de-emphasizing content. Our Supper in Dresden, over four metres in length, is an example of this technique, as it oscillates between figuration and robust chromatic harmonies of pink, blue and black.

Although the motif recalls the western tradition of the Last Supper, Supper in Dresden also alludes to an actual historical situation. Baselitz, who grew up near Dresden, here depicts the meeting of Expressionists in 1905 that gave rise to the artistic group known as Die Brücke. The nervous, agonized-looking figure on the left has been identified as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, while the dominant central figure is said to represent Karl Schmidt-Rotluff. The two close friends Otto Müller and Erich Heckel, on the right, share a single body.

– Google Arts and Culture

For more info about this painting please click the link above.

38. Portrait of Patience Escalier (Vincent van Gogh)

39. Apricot Trees in Blossom (Vincent van Gogh)

40. Garden with Weeping Willow: Sunny Lawn in a Public Park (Arles) (Vincent van Gogh)


Kunsthaus Zürich – details of my favorite paintings was last modified: October 23rd, 2018 by Dong

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