Private Swiss collection;
Sale Christie’s, Zurich, May 30, 2016, no. 57;
Private collection, Berlin
The two major Swiss painters in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries were Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) and Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918). The former developed a personal form of symbolism employed for mythological and mystical subjects. Hodler, on the other hand, painted in a more direct manner portraits and later allegorical figures (figs. 1a-d). He was an important influence on the next generation of Swiss painters including Cuno Amiet (1868-1961 – figs. 2a - d) and Max Buri (1868-1915 – figs. 3a-j) who both spent time in France absorbing the Post- Impressionist aesthetic. Back in Switzerland they painted many bold portraits in vivid colors. Buri, who came under Hodler’s influence in 1900, was in turn the teacher of our artist Klara Borter. She had been born in Interlaken, the daughter of a hotel keeper, and she studied art from 1907 to 1909 at the Böcklin Atelier in Zurich. Then at age twenty-one she began working in Brienz with Buri. Borter excelled as both a genre portrait painter (with an occasional landscape) and later as a graphic artist producing travel posters advertising the attractions of the Swiss mountain resorts (fig. 4). It was Buri who encouraged Borter to participate in the First Swiss International Art Exhibition held in 1909 at the Kursaal of Interlaken, and this launched her career. Later exhibitions of her work were in Rome, Bern, and Zurich. More recently she was featured in an exhibition of Swiss women artists at the Kunstmuseum, Thun (2012).
Like her mentor, Borter (but without ever having visited France), painted in a direct, unfussy manner with broad areas of flat color and with great attention to the details of character. There is generally a rather earthy immediacy to her portraits and genre figures (figs. 5a-f). While Hodler was to demonstrate an interest in military types in 1915 with portraits of the highest ranking Swiss general (fig. 6), Buri in Paris during 1891 had already depicted a seated French soldier smoking a cigarette (fig. 7). It seems likely that he brought this work back to Switzerland with him, and it inspired Borter to paint the same subject. Her soldier (fig. 8) (cut off at the knees) has only a mustache and not a full beard, but he does wear the similar red and blue uniform and cap of the Swiss army. Since Switzerland was neutral in World War I, it is unlikely that he is a French soldier; rather he is most likely one of the Swiss soldiers who were mobilized in 1914 to protect the country’s borders. The single stripe on his sleeve indicates that he is a private. In painting her own variation on Buri’s theme, Borter simplified some elements of the costume and background, but she has added the details of the wine bottle and glass. These provide a relaxed element that is typical of her approach and serve to make this such an appealing composition.