Painting and object art

Some of the most influential members of the Romantic and Bauhaus movements were Swiss. Swiss artists were also at the forefront of the Concrete Art movement.

Nanas by Niki de Saint Phalle at the Leineufer in Hanover
Niki de Saint Phalle's "Nanas", Hanover © Jürgen Götzke

Romanticism, which emerged during the 18th century, is one of the most important eras in Switzerland’s art history. Exponents like Caspar Wolf, Johann Heinrich Füssli, François Diday and Alexandre Calame celebrated the beauty of nature in its wild and primitive state. The symbolist mountain landscapes of Arnold Böcklin and Ferdinand Hodler, or the naturalist depictions of peasant life by Albert Anker brought a new dimension to traditional Romantic art.

At the end of the 18th century, the Winterthur artist Anton Graff was one of the most sought-after and influential portrait painters in the German-speaking world. So much so, he was asked by the royal House of Saxony in Dresden to become its official court painter. Graff and his fellow countryman, Adrian Zingg, a painter and copper engraver, drew inspiration for their work from “Saxon Switzerland”. In doing so, they became the founding fathers of the Romantic landscape painting movement in Germany.

At the end of the 19th century, Swiss art began to diverge in different directions, though it continued to focus on landscape painting, as evidenced by the works of Giovanni Giacometti, Paul Klee, Cuno Amiet and Felix Valloton.

In 1916, the avant-garde movement “Dada” was born in Zurich. At the heart was the Cabaret Voltaire and a group of artists that included Hugo Ball, Emmy Hennig, Hans Arp, Sophie Taeuber-Arp and Tristan Tzara. Founded in reaction to the horrors of the First World War, the movement paved the way for the Bauhaus school, which heavily influenced the work of Johannes Itten and Paul Klee.

In the 1940s, Zurich once again provided the backdrop for an emerging new movement, concrete art, which was promoted and developed by local artist Max Bill. In the post-war years, several Swiss artists enjoyed international renown, such as the Hyperrealist Franz Gertsch, the abstract artist Rolf Iseli, the Surrealist artist Meret Oppenheim, the lithographer Hans Erni, as well as performance and object artists like Dieter Roth and Daniel Spörri.

A new generation of Swiss artists began to emerge towards the end the 20th century, such as John Armleder, Sylvie Fleury, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Roman Signer, Pipilotti Rist and Thomas Hirschhorn. Rather than devoting themselves to the traditional paint-on-canvas approach, they use multimedia and a range of forms, including collages and found objects, in their work.