Cuno Amiet Biography

(Former Artist known for Painting, graphic arts, illustration, sculpture)

Birthday: March 28, 1868 (Aries)

Born In: Solothurn, Switzerland

Painter, illustrator, graphic artist and sculptor Cuno Amiet, noted for introducing French Postimpressionism into Switzerland, was a pre-eminent modernist Swiss artist. He was the first artist in Switzerland who gave priority to colours in composition. Although initially Amiet took training in academic art, he later joined the Pont-Aven School and started preferring the bold use of pure colour. His experience there left a deep and lasting impression on the artist helping him to evolve as an ace colourist. He was greatly influenced by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler and was a member of the German expressionist group called Brucke. His works, most of which reflected themes of expressionism, incorporated both French and German modernist elements. His career bolstered in the 1900s after he started taking part in several European expositions and competitions and won a silver medal at the Exposition Universelle. His rich oeuvre of over 4000 paintings in a career spanning around seven decades includes over 1000 self-portraits; numerous wall paintings; and several landscapes depicting gardens, fruit harvests and winter scenes. Some of his early masterpieces were destroyed in the 1931 fire in the Münchner Glaspalast. Amiet also produced several expressive portrait busts in marble and bronze.

Quick Facts

Died At Age: 93


Spouse/Ex-: Anna Luder von Hellsau

Born Country: Switzerland

Artists Swiss Men

Died on: July 6, 1961

place of death: Oschwand, Seeberg, Switzerland

Notable Alumni: Academy Of Fine Arts, Munich, Académie Julian

More Facts

education: Academy of Fine Arts, Munich

Childhood & Early Life

Cuno Amiet was born on March 28, 1868, in Solothum, Switzerland, to Josef Ignaz Amiet, a historian and local activist who served as chancellor of the canton of Solothurn.  Amiet studied at the Kantonsschule Solothurn and completed his graduation with the Matura in 1883.

He attended classes under Swiss realist painter Frank Buchser for sometime following which, in 1886, he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. There he met Giovanni Giacometti who eventually became his lifelong friend. The two later moved to Paris in 1888 to continue their studies. There Amiet attended the private art school for painting and sculpture called Académie Julian and studied under the guidance of Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Gabriel Ferrier and Tony Robert-Fleury. Meanwhile, Amiet continued to work with Buchser during the summers until the latter died in 1890.

As Amiet was not content with academic art, he joined the Pont-Aven School in 1892. During his thirteen months stay in the now-famous village called Breton, he encountered works created by the Ganguin circle and came under the tutelage of noted painters like Émile Bernard,  Roderic O'Conor, Paul Sérusier and Armand Séguin. The latter introduced Amiet to the art of etching. Amiet’s tenure there left a strong impact on him gradually developing him as a colourist. It was in Pont-Aven that Amiet started preferring the use of pure colour.

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As it was becoming difficult for Amiet to sustain himself because of insufficient funds, he returned to Switzerland in June 1893 and set up a studio in Hellsau. His new paintings were however not well received during an 1894 exposition at the Kunsthalle Basel and during the 1890s he garnered only modest commercial success while continuing his collaborations with Giacometti.

Amiet eventually met senior Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler who worked his way up the ladder facing criticism from both critics and public and with time emerged as one of the leading Symbolist painters by the end of the 19th century. Amiet, who was commissioned to paint a portrait of Holder in 1898, was greatly influenced by Hodler’s work and this started reflecting in his own works. The two were given major exhibitions at the Vienna Secession in 1904. During this time Amiet was criticised as a young follower of Holder. This led him to return back to the Pont-Aven style of French art and gradually develop himself as an independent artist. Through the next decade, Amiet produced some of the best paintings of his expansive career.

His first solo exhibition held at the Künstlerhaus in Zurich in February 1905 met with criticism and controversy. This exhibition was thereafter held in Dresden where Amiet’s work caught attention of E. L. Kirchner, E. Heckel and K. Schmidt-Rottluff, future members of Brücke or Bridge, the first German expressionist group. The group was organised later and Amiet was invited to join it. The first exhibition of the group held in December 1906 included works of Amiet. The following year, he presented Brücke or Bridge as a group in Solothurn and thus played an instrumental part in ushering another modernist current in Switzerland. Although his involvement with the activities and exhibitions of the group diminished after 1908, he remained a member of the group till it was dissolved in 1913.

Meanwhile Amiet began working in the idyllic Bernese village of Oschwand and eventually settled there following his marriage in 1898. His house there became a meeting place for several distinguished painters, musicians, writers, and scholars like Wilhelm Worringer, Samuel Singer, Arthur Weese, Hermann Hesse and Adolf Frey. Amiet also thrived as a mentor and trained several students in his house including Werner Miller, Werner Neuhaus, Albert Müller, Marta Worringer and Hans Morgenthaler

Amiet rose to prominence and his fortunes improved significantly in the 1900s after he started participating in European expositions and competitions and bagged a silver medal in the Exposition Universelle for his 1899 work Richesse du soir.

He received several private and official orders since 1910. Some of the notable ones include for the loggia of the art museum in Zurich, the exterior wall decorations at the art museum in Bern and the gymnasium frescos in Bern. He remained a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission from 1911 to 1915 and again from 1931 to 1932.

His participation in different international exhibitions reached its peak in 1912 with shows being held at places like Amsterdam, Munich, Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg and Frankfort. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bern in 1919.

During the early 1920s, while thriving as a painter, Amiet also tried his hands as a sculpture and produced several expressive portrait busts in marble and bronze. He produced several wall paintings during the late 1920s and in the 1930s. Fifty of his most notable works were destroyed when the Münchner Glaspalast building was destroyed in a fire on June 6, 1931.

He served as a board member of the Gottfried Keller Foundation from 1934 to 1948 and of the Kunstmuseum Bern from 1935 to 1948.

Although Amiet excelled as an oil painting artist, he was also a skilled watercolourist and printmaker. During the 1940s and 1950s, Amiet’s works were more focussed on abstract concepts of space and light.

Several art works of this virtuoso are displayed in different major institutions and museums across the globe including at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio, US; the Kunstmuseum in Basel, Switzerland; the Kunsthaus Zürich in Zurich, Switzerland; the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, France; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California, US.

Personal Life

In 1898, Amiet married Anna Luder von Hellsau, daughter of a tavern keeper. Giacometti and Anna’s sister were witnesses to the marriage. Amiett and his wife had an adopted daughter called Lydia Thalmann. Anna died in 1951 and Amiet succumbed to prolonged illness on July 6, 1961.

See the events in life of Cuno Amiet in Chronological Order

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