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Kunstmuseum Winterthur:

Revolution with black coffee

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The salon in the Villa Flora around 1908

Every Tuesday, a group of young people interested in culture gathered around the round table in the Villa Flora solon and drank black coffee. They discussed painting and arts and crafts, the latest developments and old traditions. Cultural policy was also on the list of topics, and it was not uncommon for frustration to be expressed about the outdated structures in Winterthur and how modern trends from abroad were being overlooked. The Kunstverein and especially its board showed little interest in modern painting, preferring to focus on the conservative and provincial.

Würtenberger. Vorstand Planung

Ernst Würtenberger, Der Kunstvereinsvorstand, 1915

Foto: Hans Humm, Zürich

The dissatisfaction of the committed patrons of culture who rallied around Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser led to a veritable palace revolution. The old guard of the Kunstverein board was dismissed and replaced by young, open-minded men – women were not yet on the board. Robert Rittmeyer and Georg Reinhart were already members, and because they were now the most senior, they were given the important posts, and so in 1907 Robert Rittmeyer became president, Georg Reinhart vice president and Arthur Hahnloser actuary. After Rittmeyer won the competition to build the art museum, he stepped down as president and Richard Bühler, Hedy's dedicated cousin, became president.

The new, rejuvenated board of directors

The focus of the Kunstverein's exhibition and collecting activities soon changed under the rejuvenated board. Although the local and simple was not completely eliminated, the focus shifted noticeably to contemporary, modern painting. Initially on progressive Swiss artists such as Ferdinand Hodler and Giovanni Giacometti and soon also on the latest from Paris: the Nabis and Fauves.


The new Winterthur museum building, around 1916

The new board soon made even bolder plans, namely to build its own museum - previously, exhibitions had been organized in the town hall or other improvised locations. At that time, hardly any town in Switzerland had its own museum building. Politicians were correspondingly cautious, covering only a third of the building costs, with the rest coming from patrons.

Detail Ring

Subtle detail: Arthur Hahnloser's hand with the wedding ring, which subtly refers to Hedy.

A painting commissioned for the opening of the museum shows the board of directors at the planning stage, as the architect Rittmeyer presents his plans. Sitting at the table on the left is Richard Bühler, now the president, and opposite him with pen in hand is Arthur Hahnloser. The driving force behind all of this, Hedy Hahnloser, is not present, but Arthur Hahnloser's wedding ring, prominently placed in the foreground, is a golden tribute to her.

By the way

The salon and its coffee corner were also the place where the idea for the Villa Flora Museum was born in the second half of the 20th century.