Tag Archives: Art Appreciation

Rietberg Museum: Ars Una

Relatively close to my home, is a museum dedicated to artworks from afar. Zürich’s Rietberg Museum is one of my favourite places to explore when in the city. Don’t be misled by the reference to “ars una,” (a new phrase to me – one I came across when researching the Rietberg’s history, which lead to — more research). The museum’s collection is wonderfully diverse. I stopped in one recent rainy Saturday and took some photos to share with you. I’ll tell you about a little scandal, too.Rietberg Zurich Street Entrance - photo Sara Lynne Moffatt


Originally opened in 1952, the museum’s foundation is a collection donated to the city of Zürich by Baron Eduard von der Heydt (1882-1964). The Baron, born in Germany and later became a Swiss national, was a banker with a passion for visual art. To him, “ars una” (or one art) meant all art – art embodying the diverse expressions created by people from around the globe.

The Rietberg complex consists of several buildings. Villa Wesendonck houses Indian sculpture, pre-Columbian art, works from Tibet, South East Asia and Oceania, and a collection of Swiss Carnival masks. The Remise Atelier, seen in the photos above, contains a Japanese tearoom and craft studio. Villa Schönberg holds a reference library. Park-Villa Rieter, a short stroll from the other buildings, displays paintings from India.Rietberg Museum Blossoms and a Cyclist Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Villa Wesendonck, the main building, is a grand neo-classical structure, built for Otto Wesendonck and his wife, Mathilde in 1857. Both were originally from Germany. He was a silk merchant and she, a poet and author. They enjoyed hosting artists in their home. Among them was Richard Wagner. For a time, Wagner and his wife, Minna, stayed in the Wesendonck’s Villa Schönberg, located across the street from the house Otto and Mathilde lived in.

You enter the museum through a modern green glass pavilion, suitably named Emerald. The triangle pattern decorating the glass is reminiscent of the lush hill the complex sits on. This greenhouse-like cube is the only visible marker of the substantial museum expansion completed in 2007. Its architects, Alfred Grazioli (Berlin) and Adolf Krischanitz (Vienna/Berlin), cleverly created a spacious, two-level subterranean display area; leaving the original character of the villas and grounds intact. The underground section houses artworks from Africa, China and Japan, along with special exhibitions.

Looking Out Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Ready to go in? Before we get to the artwork, I’ll fill you in on the scandal. The entrance way is a discrete nod to it.

During his stay with the Wesendonck’s, Richard Wagner became enamoured with Mathilde. He wrote many letters to her professing his love. It’s said, that his affair with Mathilde inspired him to compose Tristan and Isolde. The opera includes five poems written by Mathilde, one being “Im Treibhaus” (“In the Greenhouse” or “In the Hothouse”). You can read an English translation of the poem here. Including the writing of others in his work was uncharacteristic for Wagner. Does it suggest that they had an illicit liaison? More certainly, Wagner thought highly of Mathilde’s writing. Affair or no affair, Tristan and Isolde is considered a magnificent opera. Now let me show you some of the Rieteberg’s magnificent artworks.

Rietberg Japanese Watercolour - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Japanese watercolour, Woman with Brush and Poem Card. Japan, Edo period, 1832. By Totoya Hokkei (1780 – 1850).

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Top detail of a carved wooden mask from the Baga area of Guinea, Africa, ca. 1900. The expertly carved patterns add a wonderful texture to the mask.

Sculpture Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of the Hindu Goddess Durga Fighting with a Demon. Indian, Karnataka, probably Mysore, Dynasty, 11th century. The Goddess protects her believers from evil.

Rietberg Maori Carving Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Detail of a carved wooden house post depicting a tattooed figure. Of Maori origin, New Zealand, pre-1900.

Rietberg Chinese Silver Box Detail - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Silver melon-shaped box with a mouse. China, Tang Dynasty (618-907). This intricately detailed box is about 5 centimetres tall.

Amorous Couple Rietberg Museum Photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sandstone relief sculpture of an amorous couple. Central India, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century. The Rietberg’s literature notes, “according to the shilpashastras (ancient art manuals), the main purpose of an artwork is to create emotions (rasa). In this context eroticism, the queen of all rasas, plays a central role.”

Rietberg Ganesha Sculpture - photo by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Sculpture of Ganesha, the Hindu deity of beginnings. Ganesha also aids believers in overcoming obstacles. India, Bundelkhand, Chandella Dynasty, 11th century.

I hope that you enjoyed the mini-tour. Do you have a favourite piece? As a collector of boxes, I’d love to add the silver melon-shaped box to my stash. Better yet, wrap them all up, please! A little something did make its way home with me. I’ll tell you about it in my next post.

You can view more of the Rietberg’s wonderful collection online. Throughout the year, the museum also hosts a number of special exhibitions. Until June 1, 2014, you can see a wonderful display of carvings, sculptures and masks by artists from the Ivory Coast. The works span 300 years and include a number of contemporary pieces.  From mid-May through early August, works by the Zen master and painter Sengai will be on display.

If you visit, allow time to stroll through Rieterpark, a picturesque park overlooking Lake Zürich. On sunny days, pick up a bite to go from the Rieterberg’s café, head into the park, choose a shady spot under one of the majestic trees and enjoy a picnic. It’s almost as lovely to visit the park on rainy days.
Magnolia Blossoms Rietberg Museum Photo Sara Lynne Moffatt

Magnolia, the Lotus of Trees

Observing leaves: at first, I doubt they are persimmon—
looking at the blossoms, I doubt they are lotus.
How fortunate there are no fixed forms—
this tree has no comparison.

-Chin’gak Kuksa Hyesim (1178 – 1234)

Photographs by Sara Lynne Moffatt

Additional Articles of Interest
Museum Rietberg Press Release: From Buddha to Picasso: The Collector Eduard von der Heydt
Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim (peonymoon.wordpress.com)

Exploring The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

What attracts you to artwork? For me, initial attractions vary. The lasting ones are those which trigger an emotional response. In addition, learning about the artist, the message they intended and the provenance of their work, either enhances or reduces a piece’s appeal to me.

This past spring, when in Venice, I spent an afternoon viewing The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Below are some of my favourites. The last two were acquired by the museum after Peggy’ Guggenheim’s death.

While Peggy Guggenheim initially sought out the advice of art experts when building her collection, her selections were based on her own preferences. She often had a personal connection with the artists whose work she acquired. Art brought her a great deal of enjoyment.

The Antipope, Dec 1941 – Mar 1942. Max Ernst (1891 – 1976)

This Surrealist piece was the first to command my attention at the museum. I kept going back to it. It’s a fascinating, disturbing and sad painting.


The Antipope. Photo: juliesea

Peggy Guggenheim and Max Ernst married in December 1941, the month Ernst began to create this painting. Peggy believed that Ernst had portrayed her as the figure third from the right, with Ernst representing himself as the black horse. Some scholars agree with this interpretation. Others suggest Peggy Guggenheim is the figure to the far left. You can learn about “The Antipope” via this link to the Guggenheim site.

Just as the poet the has to write down what is being thought – voiced – inside of him, so the painter has to limn and give objective form to what is visible inside of him.” – Max Ernst

Silver Bed Head 1945-46. “Sandy” Alexander Calder (1889 – 1976)

The whimsy of the piece engages me. That it was a personal item of Peggy’s, rather than one commissioned for her museum, is also appealing. Calder created this work of art specifically for Peggy Guggenheim. There is a photo of Peggy in her bedroom at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in my previous post. Calder’s sculpture is on the wall, above her bed.

Best known for his amazing mobiles, it’s not surprising Calder’s background was in mechanical engineering. He studied the discipline at university, then worked in the field for about six years before becoming a sculptor. To learn more about Calder and his work, please visit the Calder Foundation website.

Calder Bedhead Photo Patrick Huber

Silver Bed Head, Calder. Photo: Patrick Huber

Sculptures after Picasso’s sketches, 1964. Egidio Costantini (1912 -2007)

It’s Costantini’s life story makes these sculptures of particular interest to me.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection Blue Glass Sculptures

Sculptures after Picasso’s sketches. Photos: L. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection R. Patrick Huber

Born in southern Italy, Costantini grew up in Venice. After training to become a radio telegraph operator, he worked as a bank clerk. Later, he obtained a degree in botany. His interest in glass began when he worked as an agent for several Murano glass factories. Gradually, Costantini learned the art of glass blowing from the master Murano craftsmen and began experimenting with glass. He envisioned glass as an art medium rather than as a material suited only for functional applications. Through collaborations with artists and master Venetian glass blowers, he began to create his vision. He set up an artists’ co-operative in 1950 called Fucina degli Angeli (Forge of Angels). After achieving some success, he ran into financial difficulties and closed it in 1958. Costantini met Peggy Guggenheim in 1961 through a friend. She provided him with the funds needed to revitalize the company. You can read more about Costantini at fucinadegliangeli.com. The website is in Italian, Google Translate worked well for me.

You can see the grand Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granda through the window screen behind the glass sculptures. Please refer to my previous post to read about the link between the Corners and the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni which houses The Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

The New Gates of Paradise, 1960. Claire Falkenstein (1908-1997)

What a perfect name. The gates lead into the palazzo’s garden oasis, to the home Peggy Guggenheim lived in for 30 years (I think that the longest I’ve lived in one place is 4 years – my husband calls me a nomad – maybe I just need some gates to paradise). Falkenstein’s creation is both functional and fascinating. Their design makes me think of dense bramble bushes.

Peggy commissioned her friend, Claire Falkenstein, an American sculptor and painter, to create the gates. Claire had lived in Paris for a number of years. While there, she became interested in the relationship between space and matter. In this piece, welded iron rods create a multidimensional web around chunks of Venetian glass; instilling a sense of depth greater that the actual thickness of the panels.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice The New Gates of Paradise. Claire Falkenstein

The New Gates of Paradise. Photo: Detlef Schober

Detail of The New Gates of Paradise. Claire Falkenstein. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Detail of The New Gates of Paradise. Photo: Detlef Schober

Bird in Space, 1932-40. Constantin Brâncuși (1876 – 1957)

Brancusi Bird in Space

Photo: rocor

I find the deceptive simplicity of this sculpture appealing. This is another artwork that was close to Peggy Guggenheim’s heart.  That it had such importance to her gives me a greater appreciation of it.

She had been friends with Brâncuși, and an admirer of his work, for sixteen years before she bought one of his sculptures. “Bird in Space” sculpture was the second of his sculptures added to her collection. Although she had long admired the series, she and Brâncuși had a bitter argument of the asking price when she first tried to buy it. They did not speak for months afterwards. Weeks before German troops invaded Paris during WWII, Brâncuși finally sold the sculpture to Peggy Guggenheim. It was an emotional moment for the artist. In Confessions of Art Addict, Peggy Guggenheim writes, “Tears were streaming down Brâncuși’s face. I was genuinely touched. I never knew why he was so upset, but assumed it was because he was parting with his favorite bird.” 

Through the highly-polished, smooth bronze surface and elongated tapering shape of the bird, Brâncuși wanted to convey the “essence of flight.” By minimizing the physical attributes of the bird, we are left to focus on the its movement; its ability to quickly ascend into the sky. Please visit theartstory.org to read a short summary about Brâncuși and his work.

La Sibilla, 1947. Pericle Fazzini (1913-1987)

The sculpture shown in the photo below was one my favourites in the garden. Sibilla sits, lost in thought, with the warm summer sun on her back. Her serene smile captured my attention.

Venice Peggy Guggenheim Collection

La Sibilla

Please visit the Guggenheim site to read more about Fazzini. The sculpture was a 2012 bequest of art patron Hannelore B. Schulhof, who once said

“Art is almost like a religion. It is what gives my life dimension beyond the material world we live in.”

Savor Kindess Because Cruelty is Always Possible Later, 1983. Jenny Holzer (1950 – )

I first learned of American artist Jenny Holzer in the early 1990’s. I was living in Toronto, Canada at the time. She was in town to present and discuss her work. It was my first exposure to text being used as a standalone art form. The phrases she uses are provocative and unsettling. They make me stop, look and think.
Speaking about what motivates and inspires her work, Jenny Holzer says:

“I wanted to offer content that people – not necessarily art people – could understand.” (Interview Magazine, 2012) “I’m inclined to work on dark things. Sadly, the world is always offering up something dark and dreadful.” (The Guardian, 2013)

The bench shown below is part of her 1983 Survival series. Another phrase from this series is “Protect me from what I want.” On the series, Jenny Holzer says,

“I wanted to support things that are helpful to people and maybe bash what I think is dangerous.” (NY Times, 1989).


Photo: Richard, enjoy my life!

Jenny Holzer won the prestigious Leone d’Oro (Golden Lion) for her exhibition at the 1990 Venice Biennale. She was the first woman to represent the United States at the exhibition. While the Guggenheim connection with Jenny Holzer dates back to that Biennale, unfortunately, Peggy Guggenheim, who died in 1979, never met the artist. Knowing what we know about Peggy, it’s likely that she would have enjoyed meeting the artist.
Art (seeing it, creating it, learning about it, thinking about it, talking about it) makes my life richer and helps to keep my brain humming. How does art bring bring enjoyment to your life? Do you have a favourite quote about art or one said by an artist?

Did Van Gogh’s Yellows Contribute to his Blues?

“There is a sun, a light that for want of a better word I can only call yellow, pale sulphur yellow, pale golden citron. How lovely yellow is! And how much better I shall see the North!” –Vincent Van Gogh letter to his brother, Theo Van Gogh, Arles, August 13, 1888

Arles paintings Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh lived in Arles for just over a year, from February 1888 though May 1889. During this period, he created over 180 paintings, an astounding number and some considered to be his best works. Influenced in part by the light and colours of southern France, his paintings from this period are infused with with intense, saturated colours. Of greater interest to me is his use of colour to convey emotion, particularly his use of yellow.

After moving into the little yellow house intended to become the Studio of the South, Van Gogh set about decorating the house for the arrival of his guests,  notably for Gauguin, whom Van Gogh very much admired. Van Gogh describes his vision for one of the rooms to his brother Theo (letter dated September 9, 1888),

“The room you will have then, or Gauguin if he comes, will have white walls with a decoration of great yellow sunflowers. In the morning, when you open the window, you see the green of the gardens and the rising sun, and the road into the town. But you will see these great pictures of the sunflowers, 12 or 14 to the bunch, crammed into this tiny boudoir with its pretty bed and everything else dainty. It will not be commonplace.”

Sunflowers Vincent Van Gogh

Van Gogh completed four sunflower paintings prior to Gauguin’s arrival. The smallest, of three sunflowers, was 73 cm x 60 cm, the others were about 90 cm x 70 cm.  Having experienced the energy of Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Flowers in a spacious gallery setting, I can imagine the bold visual impact these paintings presented when hung in the small cramped rooms of the yellow house. As Gauguin wrote,

“In my yellow room, sunflowers with purple eyes stand out against a yellow background; the ends of their stalks bathe in a yellow pot on a yellow table. In one corner of the painting, the painter’s signature: Vincent. And the yellow sun, coming through the yellow curtains of my room, floods all this flowering with gold, and in the morning, when I wake up in my bed, I have the impression that it all smells very good.”

The Night Cafe Vincent Van Gogh

If I could hang one of Van Gogh’s Arle’s period paintings in my home, it would be The Night Café in the Place Lamartine, with its jarring palette of orange reds, citrus greens and varying yellows. Van Gogh competed the painting over three nights at the Café de la Gare. The man standing is Monsieur Ginoux, he and his wife were the café’s proprietors. Ginoux’s white coat and manner create a sharp contrast to the patrons scattered about the room. The use of colour and line keeps your eyes in constant motion. Notice how Van Gogh chose a bright yellow for the room beyond, yet a dingy yellow in the café. The former conveys cheerfulness, the other despair.

“I’ve tried to express the terrible human passions with the red and the green. The room is blood-red and dull yellow, a green billiard table in the centre, 4 lemon yellow lamps with an orange and green glow. Everywhere it’s a battle and an antithesis of the most different greens and reds; in the characters of the sleeping ruffians, small in the empty, high room, some purple and blue. The blood-red and the yellow-green of the billiard table, for example, contrast with the little bit of delicate Louis XV green of the counter, where there’s a pink bouquet. The white clothes of the owner, watching over things from a corner in this furnace, become lemon yellow, pale luminous green.” – letter to Theo, September 8, 1888.

“In my picture of the “Night Café” I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime. So I have tried to express, as it were, the powers of darkness in a low public house, by soft Louis XV green and malachite, contrasting with yellow-green and harsh blue-greens, and all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace, of pale sulphur.” – letter to Theo, September 9, 1888.

“I have just finished a canvas representing the interior of a night café lighted with lamps. A number of poor night wanderers are asleep in a corner. The room is painted red, and in it, under the gaslight, a green billiard table casts an immense shadow on the boarded floor. There are six or seven different reds in this canvas, from blood-red to delicate pink, contrasting with as many pale or deep greens…The more ugly, old, vicious, ill, poor I get, the more I want to take my revenge by producing a brilliant colour, well-arranged, resplendent.” – letter to his sister Wil, September 9 and 16, 1888

Compare Van Gogh’s depiction of the café with Gauguin’s version painted shortly after arriving in Arles. The focus of Gauguin’s Night Café at Arles is Madame Ginoux. His pallette more restrained than Van Gogh’s. His figures more detailed, his brushstrokes flat compared to Van Gogh’s dynamic ones. The perspective normal versus Van Gogh’s skewed view. Gauguin’s version painted in the studio, Van Gogh’s in situ. Overall a restrained mood, conveying boredom rather than despair.  Inside the Night Cafe Paul Gaugin

While Van Gogh liked Gauguin’s version of the café, “Gauguin has at the moment a painting under way of same night café that I also painted, but with figures seen in the brothels. It promises to turn out beautiful.”–letter to Bernard, Gauguin didn’t, “I’ve also done a café which Vincent likes very much and I like rather less. Basically it isn’t my cup of tea and the coarse local color doesn’t suit me. I like it well enough in paintings by other people, but for myself I’m always apprehensive. It’s purely a matter of education: One cannot remake oneself…The picture is crossed by a band of blue smoke, but the figure in front is much too neat and stiff. Oh well.” –The Art Institute of Chicago

The café and Madam Ginoux were two of a number of subjects painted by both Van Gogh and Gauguin while in Arles, each interpreted differently, with colour being one of the differentiators.

“Oh yes! he loved yellow, did good Vincent, the painter from Holland, gleams of sunlight warming his soul, which detested fog. A craving for warmth. When the two of us were together in Arles, both of us insane, and constantly at war over beautiful colors, I adored red; where could I find a perfect vermilion? He [Vincent], taking his yellowest brush, wrote on the suddenly purple wall:

Je suis sain d’Esprit.     [I am of sound mind]
Je suis Saint-Esprit.”    [I am the Holy Ghost]

Paul Gauguin, article published in Essais d’Art Libre, January 1894

Consider for a moment, the psychology of colour.

Both red and yellow are stimulating. Yellow, an emotional colour, creates feelings of optimism, creativity and self-esteem. Red, a colour of action, creates energy, excitement and activity. Taken to the extreme however, yellow can induce feelings of fear, anxiety and depression. Red is known to generate aggression, defiance and fight or flight reactions.

Picture the two men, living in a small home, passionately creating art at a frenzied pace (during their 9 weeks together, Van Gogh created 36 paintings, Gauguin 21), often under absinthe’s influence, dealing with financial stress, illness and even of the negative health impacts of the paints themselves.  It’s not surprising that their collaboration ended poorly.  Given they were surrounded by Van Gogh’s yellows and, to a lesser degree, Gauguin’s reds, I wonder, did the psychology of colour play a role in their violent argument, Gauguin’s sudden departure and Van Gogh’s final breakdown?