Picturesque Lucerne forms the backdrop of the
Collection: It All Happened by Accident
Story and Photographs by Gary Singh
he professional art dealer is a profession that only makes sense if
you do it with your heart," explains Angela Rosengart, as she leads
me through the ground floor of the collection that bears her name. But
she warns that an art dealer shouldn't get too attached to the paintings.
Then you're in trouble, since you might find it difficult to sell them
and maintain the business.
Angela Rosengart is a living connection to
Picasso, Chagall, Matisse and Klee
Angela's father Siegfried passed away in 1985 after
a lucrative career as one of Europe's most distinguished art dealers,
based in Lucerne. Together, he and Angela ran the business for decades,
often purchasing works for their own personal appreciation rather than
for any intention of moving them as product. Being close friends with
Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and several renowned artists, the Rosengarts
amassed an unrivalled collection. They purchased pieces by their own
subjective choice, for their own personal reasons. As dealers, they
knew everyone from Miro to Matisse.
The austere neoclassical building at Pilatusstrasse
10 formerly housed the Swiss National Bank, but the Rosengart Collection
of over 300 works has occupied the building since 2002. At that time,
Angela created a foundation to keep the works and make them available
to the public.
Angela hired the Basel-based architect Roger Diener
to refurbish the building and make it suitable for a collection of classic
modern works. Cosmetically, Diener retained the original structure of
the building, but successfully converted it to a museum space with subtle
lighting and wide spaces to enhance the viewer's experience of the artwork.
Much of the original ornamentation remains. He wanted a simple look
nothing superfluous, nothing grandiose.
"He understood painting and he was fond of old
buildings," Angela tells me.
Picasso was a friend of the family, so the entire ground
floor features his works, mostly from the later decades. One moves through
the work chronologically. For example, one gallery is primarily dedicated
to the '50s, while the next covers the early '60s. There are many paintings
of Picasso's various mistresses and he even painted Angela Rosengart
Pablo Picasso, Buste de Femme (Jacqueline), 1963.
From the Rosengart Collection
Other rooms on another floor feature David Douglas Duncan's
photographs of Picasso at work in his studio. A few depict scenes from
October, 1963, with Angela sitting in a chair, as Picasso draws her.
Picasso drawing Angela Rosengart, 1963. Photo by
David Douglas Duncan
"I had to sit there and endure the looks from his
eyes,"Angela recalls. "The looks were like arrows."
The eyes of Picasso, as photographed by David Douglas
All in all, one can feel the sheer vitality of Picasso's
output emanating from the walls of Pilatusstrasse 10. It's like stepping
into his very own studio. For example, as we turn a corner, Angela leads
me into another room featuring some of Picasso's etchings from 1968.
"He did something like 347 etchings that year,"
she explains. "He would complete one after the other."
Exploring the three-floor building, guided by the benefactress
herself, is downright inspiring. Tourists who show up ask the inevitable
vacuous question: Which painting is your favorite? But she says there's
no way to answer. It changes every day. In fact, with the utmost of
humility, she won't even refer to the works as a collection. Instead,
she repeats over and over that she "simply has beautiful pictures."
Aside from Picasso, the beautiful pictures include works
by Paul Klee, Matisse, Monet, Kandinsky, Leger, Braque, Seurat, Renoir,
Cezanne and more. With even more humbleness, Angela reiterates that
the entire collection happened by accident. There was never a plan.
"The paintings were acquired over the
years and we just didn't want to part with them," she admits.
Pablo Picasso, Femme dans un Fauteuil
bleu (Jacqueline), (1960). From the Rosengart Collection
In fact, her father never even planned to be an
art dealer in the first place. That also happened by accident.
He served as general manager of the Lucerne branch of the Munich-based
Thannhauser Gallery before taking over the gallery himself in
1937. After that, he operated the business as sole owner under
his own name. His life just unfolded in such a way that he became
a world-renowned dealer and agent.
Eventually Angela joined on as co-owner of the
business and although the father and daughter made a living buying
and selling works of art for decades, they often found themselves
in a dilemma. In their hearts, they really didn't want to get
rid of anything. They developed a personal attachment to many
of the works, resulting in what's now the Rosengart Collection.
Angela simply grew up with it all. At age 17, she purchased
her first work, a piece from the Paul Klee estate. She paid fifty Swiss
Francs, one month's salary at that time, for a piece titled Little X.
The piece now adorns one wall in the museum.
Little X by Paul Klee, Angelas first
Growing up, Angela never dreamed that Pablo Picasso
would eventually draw her five times. He gave her the drawings and a
few also hang in the collection.
"I like to say I snuck into immortality through
the back door," she tells me. I get the feeling she's said these
lines many, many times before. But if I had received my own portraits
directly from Picasso, I'd probably repeat myself a thousand times over.
We then move into yet another room. Gracing one wall
is the painting, Dancer II, by the Catalan master Joan Miro.
"He was a friend too," she adds.
Finally, we descend into the basement, formerly the
vault of the Swiss National Bank, now split into separate rooms dedicated
entirely to the Swiss artist Paul Klee. Over 100 of Klee's watercolors,
drawings and paintings are hung chronologically, providing tremendous
insight into the evolution of his various styles and themes.
In the basement, the walls seem three feet thick. It
cost $100,000 to break through one wall in order to divide up the space.
The concrete floor is now covered with 100-year-old wood flooring that
Diener discovered in an old home. The flooring gives the basement a
"It has a new life," Angela says.
Angela is now pushing 80. Through her, I have experienced
a living connection to some of the twentieth century's most illustrious
artists. No matter what happens, she will live forever through this
immaculate collection, forever inspiring those whose lives have unfolded
The Rosengart Collection sits a few blocks away
from the famous
Chapel Bridge in Lucerne
Dada and Business Class, Bernina
Express, Switzerland, Swiss
rail trips, Eichhorn
Schwyzerorgelfabrik and Musikhaus