It all began the same way as many creative endeavors do: a group of friends getting together to passionately discuss their favorite art. Centuries later, this small community’s dedication has grown into the largest art museum in Switzerland.
In 1787, a group of Swiss creatives in Zürich began meeting to discuss art, inspiration, and offering each other mutual support in their creative pursuits. This friendly group, including renowned paint master Henry Fuseli, would call themselves the Künstlergesellschaft, or ‘artist society.’ The creatives would later begin donating either their own artwork or collected pieces to bundle into a “Malerbuch”, a literal artists’ book of curated paintings and sketches. Forming this assemblage of art on their own, without the assistance of a prince or wealthy art patron, the creative club purchased a building to hold their pieces in 1812. Naturally, as artists are a lively bunch, the space also featured a clubhouse and a bar.
Throughout the 19th century, as their shows grew in size and appeal, the Künstlergesellschaft began to acquire paintings from outside of their native Swiss border. Outgrowing their original location, funds were found to build a grand museum–unfortunately, a bar was not included this time. Constructed in 1910, the Kunsthaus Zürich was designed by modernist architect Karl Moser, who designed the structure employing distinctive Secession architecture. Like that ragtag group of Künstlergesellschaft founders in 1787, this secession architecture style was influenced by the cultural breakaway of artists from the expectations of art academies, state-run museums, and collectors who controlled the art economy at the time.
Over a century later, and with a few more pieces added to the museum’s Malerbuch, the Kunsthaus Zürich museum underwent a $230 million extension making it the largest art museum in the country. With this newest addition housing 20th-century art, a collection by Emil Bührle, and a new central entrance hall, one might not realize the once humble roots of the museum’s inception. However, while distinguished by its collection of Swiss fine art as well as other worldly treasures, Kunsthaus Zurich continues to be a fine place for a lively art discussion amongst friends.