Switzerland's museums and art collections are known throughout the world. Among them are the Public Art Collection in Basel and the Oskar Reinhart Foundation in Winterthur. Also major are the art museums of Zurich, Bern (including the Klee Foundation), and Geneva, as well as the Avegg Foundation in Bern (Riggisberg) and the Foundation Martin Bodmer (Geneva-Cologny). The Swiss National Museum in Zurich contains valuable exhibits on history and archaeology. There are also museums of church treasures and ethnological displays.
Before about the mid-1700s, the Swiss, a sober and matter-of-fact people, did not regard art with the passion that some of their neighbors did. As a consequence, Swiss painters were not as prominent as those of Italy and France. Sculpture and painting were secondary to architecture, useful only as embellishments to the major work of art, the building itself.
Among the major Swiss artists are Salomon Gessner (1730-88), who painted landscapes and mythological scenes, and Anton Graff (1736-1813), a portraitist. Johann Heinrich Füssl (1741-1825) studied in England, where he became known as Henry Fuseli; he later was appointed keeper of the Royal Academy in London. He is best remembered for his visionary painting The Nightmare.
Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807) became the country's most acclaimed neoclassical painter, depicting allegorical, religious, and mythological themes.
Arnold Böcklin (1827-1901) also became widely known in his time. The subjects of his paintings were either extremely light, even frivolous, or else morbidly depressing, as exemplified by his Island of the Dead.
Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918) was one of the first really significant people to emerge within the world of Swiss art. Some critics have suggested that he "liberated" Swiss painting, making effective use of color and rhythmic tension. His works are displayed in such museums as the National Museum in Zurich and the Museum of Art and History in Geneva. His gargantuan murals, one of which depicts the Retreat of the Swiss Following the Battle of Marignano, remain among his best-known works.
During World War I, Zurich was the setting for the launching of Dadaism. This nihilistic movement, which lasted from about 1916 to 1922, was influenced by the absurdities and carnage of the war. It was based on deliberate irrationality and the rejection of laws of social organization and beauty.
The most famous artist to come out of Switzerland was Paul Klee (1879-1940). He became a member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), the German expressionist movement, and worked at the Bauhaus in Weimar. His work is characterized by fantasy forms in line and light-toned colors. Klee also combined abstract elements with recognizable images. Among his better-known works are Mask of Fear, Man on a Tightrope, Pastorale, and The Twittering Machine.
The most distinguished sculptor to emerge from Switzerland was Alberto Giacometti (1901-66). His metal figures, as lean and elongated as figures from an El Greco painting, can be seen in museums throughout the world. After 1930, Giacometti became closely associated with the surrealist movement. His sculpture, exemplified by L'Homme qui marche (Man Walking), is said to represent "naked vulnerability."
Another eminent sculptor, Jean Tinguely (b. 1925), became known for his kinetic sculptures, which he called "machine sculptures" or "metamechanisms." Some of these works, including Heureka, are displayed in Zurichhorn Park in Zurich. One of Tinguely's most controversial creations is La Vittoria, a golden phallus 7.8m long (26 ft.).
Graphic art is another area in which Swiss have distinguished themselves. Today, Switzerland is a center of commercial art and advertising.
Switzerland's architecture has been remarkably well preserved. The country offers superb examples of Roman ruins as well as of medieval churches, monasteries, and castles.
The architecture of Switzerland has always been greatly influenced by the aesthetic development of its neighbors. As a result, it does not have a distinctive "national" style -- except in its rural buildings, and perhaps its wood-sided chalets, which have been copied in mountain settings throughout the world.
Much of the country's earliest architecture was built by the Romans. The ruins at Avenches (Helvetia's chief town), with its once-formidable 6.4km (4-mile) circuit of walls and 10,000-seat theater, date from the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.
Many buildings were created during the Carolingian period, including the Augustinian abbey of St. Maurice in the Valais. Considered the most ancient monastic house in Switzerland, it dates from the early 6th century. The Benedictine abbey on the island of Reichenau was launched around 725, and from the early medieval period until the 11th century it was the major cultural and educational center in the country.
Two of Switzerland's finest examples of Romanesque architecture are the Benedictine Abbey of All Saints, at Schaffhausen (1087-1150), and the Church of St. Pierre de Clages (11th-12th c.). The style of these buildings was followed by the Romanesque-Gothic transitional style of the 12th and 13th centuries, as exemplified by the Cathedral of Chur or by the imposing, five-aisle Minster of Basel.
In the 15th century, Switzerland adopted the Gothic style, as seen in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame at Lausanne and the Cathedral of St. Pierre in Geneva. In 1421, the Minster of Bern was constructed in the late Gothic style, with a three-aisled, pillared basilica; no transepts were added.
With the coming of the Renaissance, there was an increased emphasis on secular buildings. The best town for viewing the architecture of this period is Murten (Morat), with its circuit of walls, fountains, and towers. During the baroque era, no mammoth public buildings were erected. Instead, domestic buildings were adorned with the ornate curves developed in Austria, Italy, and Germany. Many of the elegant town houses that give Bern its distinctive appearance were constructed during this era.
In the 19th century, impressive mansions were built in the neoclassical style. They were mostly those of prosperous merchants eager to evince their wealth.
In the 20th century, Switzerland produced a major architect, Le Corbusier (1887-1965), whose influence extended around the world. Known for his functional approach to architecture and city planning, Le Corbusier believed in adapting a building to the climate and to the convenience of both its construction and its intended use. The majority of his most significant works were erected abroad, in Berlin, Paris, Bordeaux, and Marseille, among other cities.
The principle of functionalism is evident in Switzerland's rural houses. Each region evolved its own style as it sought to build houses especially suited for retaining heat in the inhospitable, high-altitude Swiss climate. For example, in Appenzell, where it rains a lot, farm buildings were grouped into a single complex. And in the Emmental district, a large roof reached down to the first floor on all sides of the building.