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Photographs from the Estate of Frank Buchser on View at Kunstmuseum Basel
Frank Buchser: Kleines Mädchen vor einer Steintreppe in Segni, 1874, Kunstmuseum Basel, Kupferstichkabinett, Foto Martin P. Bühler.

BASEL.- The Swiss painter Frank Buchser achieved renown as a world traveller with a hankering for adventure. He celebrated his first successes in Spain, where he spent more than half a year after studying in Paris and Rome. From then on, he led an inconstant, wandering life under the sign of art. He often relocated to other countries for months or even years, but without ever completely severing ties to his Swiss homeland. He visited sites typically coveted by artists of the time, such as France and Italy, but also England, Morocco, and Greece. His longest journey, between 1866 and 1871, led him to the USA.

Under the influence of manifold impressions from around the world, Buchser’s lively cre-ative practice developed an eclectic heterogeneity and stylistic breadth. Above all, the less commercially oriented oil sketches demonstrate the artist’s gift for detailed observations vividly captured, with a quick stroke and a sure instinct for colour and light.

Few are aware that in addition to his work from the model and en plein air, Buchser also made use of photographs. In 1896, around 200 photographic prints entered the collection of the Kupferstichkabinett at the Kunstmuseum Basel, along with the bequeathed study material. At the time, the group of works was regarded as a documentary addendum to Buchser’s estate, an assessment highly unsuitable to the masterpieces that can be found among them. Now, this significant part of the collection can be seen in public for the first time, in dialogue with drawings, oil sketches and paintings by Buchser.

Views of the Roman campagna are amply represented, with landscapes, impressions of agrarian life, and pictures of animals. Many of these works date back to the era of the paper negative, and captivate with painterly blurring; others come out of the second generation of Roman photography, which privileged the glass negative with its unsure-passed wealth of detail. The double nature of the prints, both as an artist’s source material and as autonomous works of art, can be appreciated visually in the juxtaposition with Buchser’s handmade pictures.

The photographs that Buchser brought back from the USA present an entirely different character. The purpose of this trip was preparatory work for a monumental painting —ultimately never realized — for the federal building in Bern, on the subject of the American Civil War. Using photographs, the artist developed a sense of the most important settings and protagonists of the battles, which ended in 1865, and whose conclusion was cele-brated in Switzerland as a confirmation of the concept of republic. A large selection of image material was available, thanks to the work of numerous photographers in the field, who gave war reporting what at the time was a completely new level of public exposure. In addition to the documentary aspect, the technical and aesthetic ambitions of the photo-graphs are highly impressive, such as those that focus on the momentous Atlanta Campaign.

A particularly close connection between Buchser’s own work and the photographs in his possession can be found in the pictures from the English seaside resort and fishing village Scarborough, where the artist augmented his studies with photographic scenes of the port and the beach. Granted, the artist did not hold himself slavishly to the visual aids from the darkroom, but transformed the representations at will. For example, he used the photo-graph of a distinguished gentleman with bowler and walking stick in order to compose a fisher girl on the coast.

Also characteristic of Buchser’s differentiated use of the medium of photography is that large portions of his output show no influence from photographic depictions. These areas of his œuvre, including the works with Swiss subjects, are correspondingly withheld. The exhibition, which has been assembled entirely from the collections of the Kupferstichkabinett and the Kunstmuseum Basel, instead shows a representative selection from the indicated groups of pictures made in Italy, North America and England. The publication accompanying the exhibition presents all the photographic prints from Buchser’s estate, in their role as an artistic resource as well as for their own artistic qualities.

Kunstmuseum Basel | Frank Buchser | France | Italy | England | Morocco | Greece |

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