The Kunsthaus Zürich presents in an exhibition, the largest overview to date of the sketchbooks of Swiss artist Rudolf Koller (1828–1905). Koller is known for his characterful portraits of animals and for the ‘Gotthard Post’, an iconic painting in Swiss art history which is also in the Kunsthaus Zürich.

From sketches to oil studies

The Kunsthaus Zürich holds 67 of the 85 surviving sketchbooks of Rudolf Koller. Taking these together with other drawings, etchings, oil studies and paintings, this makes him one of the best-represented artists at the Kunsthaus. The presentation ‘Rudolf Koller. The Sketchbooks’ reveals a vast cosmos of sketches that could scarcely be more varied, ranging from playful finger exercises to detailed, pictorially executed drawings. This comprehensive show marks the conclusion and culmination of a multi-year restoration and digitization project which allows the books to presented in a fresh new way. It includes the most significant sketchbooks, complemented by masterfully executed sheets that were removed from the books at an earlier stage. The sketchbooks are also shown in dialogue with Koller’s oil studies for works such as the ‘Gotthard Post’, allowing viewers to retrace directly the individual stages in the painting’s development.

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Rudolf Koller, First sketch for ‘The Gotthard Post‘, 1873, Kunsthaus Zürich, The Gottfried Keller Foundation, Federal Office of Culture, Berne, 1896
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Rudolf Koller, Study for ‘The Gotthard Post‘. In: Sketchbook P 42, fol. 43, before 1873, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905
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Rudolf Koller, Study for ‘Cows in the Water‘. In: Sketchbook P 55, fol. 32, before 1869, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905
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Rudolf Koller, Study for ‘Idyll at Hasliberg‘. In: Sketchbook P 36, fol. 35, 1862/1864, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905
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Rudolf Koller, Study for ‘Idyll at Hasliberg‘. In: Sketchbook P 28, fol. 4, before 1864, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905
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Rudolf Koller, Ten cows. In: Sketchbook P 67, fol. 25, 1869/1870, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905
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Originals on site. Digital versions online

All the sketchbooks are from the Kunsthaus’s Collection of Prints and Drawings and can normally only be viewed by prior appointment. The major overview that has now been made possible is a rare chance to discover a virtuoso draughtsman whose work is so much more than the label of ‘animal painter’ might suggest. As of this year, it is also possible to browse already ten of the sketchbooks by the artist in virtual form and so discern the connections between his drawings and paintings, more books will be following. Media points in the exhibition will also offer opportunities to navigate through individual volumes.

The restoration and digitization of Rudolf Koller's sketchbooks was made possible by the Stiftung Familie Fehlmann, Winterthur.

Ill: Rudolf Koller, Resting Lion, from: Sketchbook P 65, fol. 2, 1851–1855, Kunsthaus Zürich, 1905

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