The Kunstmuseum Bern is one of the oldest art museums in Switzerland and has a collection that ranges from the Middle Ages to the present day. Works by Pablo Picasso, Meret Oppenheim, Vincent van Gogh and many others make the collection one of the most important and diverse in Switzerland.

Following several extensions to the building, the museum now has 4,000 square meters of exhibition and exhibition space.

The foundation (1849)

The foundation stone for the "Staatliche Kunstsammlung" was laid by plaster casts of ancient statues donated by the French government. In 1820, parts of the collection of the art publicist and art dealer Sigmund Wagner were purchased for this purpose. The Bernese Artists' Society organized a Swiss art exhibition every two years from 1840 to 1854. It promoted exchange and local artistic creation. In 1849, the State Art Collection was merged with the collection of the Artists' Society. This year marks the actual foundation of the Kunstmuseum Bern.

The museum building (1876-1878)

Das Kunstmuseum Bern um 1879

With the death of the Bernese architect Gottlieb Hebler, a legacy of 350,000 francs became available for the construction of an art museum. The sponsors of the future art museum consisted of the state, the municipality of Bern, the Burgergemeinde Bern, the Bernese Artists' Society and the Cantonal Art Association. It was granted the status of a corporation by the Bern government council. The corporation realized the museum building by master builder Eugen Stettler from 1876 to 1878.

The Kunstmuseum Bern opened on August 9, 1879.

Focus on the collection (1879-1936)

In 1917, the sponsorship was transformed into a foundation, which today is part of the umbrella foundation Kunstmuseum Bern - Zentrum Paul Klee and manages the museum as owner, acquires its own works and looks after the collections entrusted to it by its corporate partners. The Cantonal Art Association is dissolved in 1919. It is replaced by the Association of Friends of the Kunstmuseum Bern.

In 1892, the Kunstmuseum Bern acquired its first work itself: Arnold Böcklin's "Meeresstille" from 1887. Many major works of Swiss art found their way into the collection as deposits, such as Niklaus Manuel's "Die Zehntausend Märtyrer am Berg Ararat", Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun's "La Fête des bergers suisses à Unspunnen le 17 août 1808" and Albert Anker's "Kleinkinderschule auf der Kirchenfeldbrücke". In 1901, four paintings by Hodler were purchased: "The Day", "The Night", "Eurythmy" and "The Disappointed Souls". The first trend-setting modernist purchases were Kirchner's "Alpsonntag. Scene at the Fountain" and Paul Klee's "Ad Parnassum".

  • Arnold Böcklin: Meeresstille
  • Niklaus Manuel: Die Zehntausend Märtyrer am Berg Ararat
  • Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun: La Fête des bergers suisses à Unspunnen le 17 août 1808
  • Albert Anker: Kleinkinderschule auf der Kirchenfeldbrücke
  • Ferdinand Hodler: Die Nacht
  • Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Alpsonntag. Szene am Brunnen
  • Paul Klee: Ad Parnassum

The structural extension (1936)

The extension to the Kunstmuseum Bern opened on February 29, 1936: a new building designed by Karl Indermühle with unadorned white walls and skylights - ideal architecture for contemporary modernism. However, the building was dominated by Swiss artists who paid homage to the zeitgeist of "spiritual national defense" with a radical realism. The building's decoration, the sgraffito "Apple Harvest" by Cuno Amiet, was attacked by progressive Bernese artists with a nocturnal tar attack.

International profile (from 1944)

In 1944, Max Huggler became director of the art museum and gave the collection an international profile. He declared Paul Klee to be the focal point of his collection policy, around whom Braque, Picasso, Gris and Kandinsky were to be arranged. After the death of Lily Klee, Paul Klee's widow, the Klee Society was founded, from which the Paul Klee Foundation later emerged. The extensive holdings were stored in the Kunstmuseum Bern from 1952.

In addition to purchases, generous private and institutional donations, bequests and permanent loans from Hans Hahnloser and Georges F. Keller were added, including works by van Gogh, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Matisse, Soutine, Picasso and Dali.

In 1954, the Rupf collection was entrusted to the Kunstmuseum. In 1961, the Ernst Kreidolf Association deposited its works in the Kunstmuseum Bern. The Adolf Wölfli Foundation, which has been based at the Kunstmuseum since its establishment in 1975, manages the estate of the writer, poet, draughtsman and composer and is now a distinctive feature of the Kunstmuseum Bern. In 1979, the Othmar Huber Foundation brought top works by Picasso, Klee, Franz Marc, Alexej von Jawlensky and Kandinsky to the Kunstmuseum as deposits.

Opening of Atelier 5 building (1983)

Der Erweiterungsbau von 1983

In 1983, the extension by the Bern-based architects' collective Atelier 5 was opened with additional space for the collection, a cinema, office, seminar and library rooms and a café. The former extension by Indermühle was demolished, with the exception of the street façade.

From 1983 until today

In the 1980s, the Kunstmuseum Bern received the Meret Oppenheim bequest as well as numerous donations such as those from Eberhard W. and Marlies H. Kornfeld. In 1992, the Johannes Itten Foundation joined the museum with 100 works, diaries and student works by Johannes Itten, thus complementing the Bauhaus focus.

In 2005, the extensive holdings of the Klee Foundation were transferred to the Zentrum Paul Klee, which was initiated by the Bernese patron Maurice E. Müller and the heirs of Paul Klee. Together with the holdings of its partner foundations GegenwART, Kunsthalle Bern and Foto Film und Video, the Kunstmuseum Bern now has one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Switzerland.

In 2014, the Kunstmuseum Bern inherited the estate of Cornelius Gurlitt. Subsequently, Switzerland's first department for provenance research was established. The focus is currently on the legatees Cornelius Gurlitt and Georges F. Keller.

In 2015, the umbrella foundation Kunstmuseum Bern - Zentrum Paul Klee was established at the end of a long-standing cultural policy process, giving both institutions joint strategic management.

Between December 2018 and July 2019, the Kunstmuseum Bern invited the public to take part in an open dialog to identify the requirements for the museum's renewal. These requirements were incorporated into an international architectural competition, which will be decided in August 2024. With the renovation of the old building and a new replacement building (to replace the current extension), the museum should enable art enjoyment, encounters and education in a contemporary form and also once again meet the requirements for fire protection, earthquake safety and the protection of cultural assets.

Past and future of the Kunstmuseum Bern

This website uses cookies. You can find more information in the privacy policy.