The Emil Bührle Collection at the Kunsthaus Zürich

Introduction

The Emil Bührle Collection at the Kunsthaus Zürich A world-class art collection and its history

Some 170 artworks from the private Foundation E.G. Bührle Collection entered the Kunsthaus Zürich on long-term loan in autumn 2021. A popular vote in 2012 approved their incorporation into the museum’s new extension. The collection contains works from the Middle Ages to the Early Modern era, with an outstanding ensemble of French Impressionist painting at its centre.

Bernardo Strozzi, Santa Caterina d’Alessandria (Saint Catherine of Alexandria), 1618-1620 Oil on canvas, 165 x 130 cm, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn)
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, La Liseuse (A Girl Reading), 1845-1850 Oil on canvas, 42.5 x 32.5 cm, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn)
Édouard Manet, Un Coin du jardin de Bellevue (A Garden Nook at Bellevue), 1880 Oil on canvas, 91 x 70 cm, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn)
Edgar Degas, Petite Danseuse de quatorze ans (Little Dancer Aged Fourteen), 1880-1881 Bronze, cotton tutu, silk ribbon, 98 cm high, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: Peter Schälchli, Zurich
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Irène Cahen d’Anvers (La Petite Irène) [Irène Cahen d’Anvers (Little Irene)], 1880 Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: Schälchli/Schmidt, Zurich
Pablo Picasso, L’Italienne (Italian Woman), 1917 Oil on canvas, 149 x 101.5 cm, Emil Bührle Collection, on permanent loan at Kunsthaus Zürich, photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (J.-P. Kuhn)

Emil Bührle (1890–1956) was an important industrialist, collector and patron who remains a controversial figure to this day. He expanded the Machine Tool Factory in Oerlikon next to Zurich into an arms company of international dimensions. The company’s success made him extremely wealthy, and enabled him to accumulate one of the most important private collections of the era, consisting of over 600 works.

Emil Bührle posing in front of a prototype anti-aircraft missile system designed by his firm, 1954 The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock / Photo: Dmitri Kessel

Emil Bührle began collecting in 1936. Between then and 1945, some 150 works entered his collection. Thirteen of them were identified as looted art after the Second World War, and Bührle was obliged to return them to their rightful owners. He acquired nine of them a second time. The principal phase of his collecting activities came after the war.

Emil Bührle in his collection, 1954 The LIFE Picture Collection / Shutterstock / Photo: Dmitri Kessel
Claude Monet, Le Bassin aux nymphéas, le soir (The Water Lily Pond in the Evening), 1916-1922 Oil on canvas, 200 x 600 cm, Kunsthaus Zürich, Donated by Emil G. Bührle, 1952, photo: Kunsthaus Zürich, Franca Candrian

The Kunsthaus Zürich was also a beneficiary of Bührle’s wealth. Bührle had been a member of the collection committee since 1940, and that same year he put forward the idea of financing an extension. In 1952, when the project was being realised, he donated two large water-lily pictures by Claude Monet to the Kunsthaus.

It is my intention to offer the public a comprehensive presentation of my collection when the new building opens. I therefore say: see you on Heimplatz.

Emil Bührle, 1954 lecture

The exhibition took place in 1958, two years after the collector’s death. In 1960 some 200 works from the collection were transferred to a foundation which displayed them in a private museum in an outer district of Zurich until 2015. The location was not especially suitable for large numbers of visitors, and it proved impossible to guarantee the works’ security. In October 2021 the collection moved on long-term loan to the Chipperfield building, where it occupies one sixth of the total exhibition space. This marked the start of a new phase in the relationship between Bührle, his family and his collection on the one hand, and the Kunsthaus and the city of Zurich on the other.

The garden side of the villa next to the Bührle family residence at Zollikerstrasse 172 in Zurich Archive Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich The extension by David Chipperfield Architects on Heimplatz in Zurich, August 2021 Photo: Kunsthaus Zürich, Franca Candrian
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