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Mystery painting goes on show

Keystone

A painting by leading Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler which was reported stolen earlier this month has gone on show in Bern's Museum of Fine Arts.

This content was published on April 29, 2008 - 12:52

The canvas, Landscape in Ticino, featured in the catalogue but it was not on display when the exhibition opened on April 9.

Mystery still surrounds its disappearance and recovery.

The alleged theft emerged in March when the transport company went to the collector's house to fetch the picture for the exhibition, and was told that a woman claiming to be connected to the museum had taken it in 2006.

Shortly after the disappearance was made public, it turned up in the Winterthur archives of the Volkart Foundation which pursues a wide range of cultural and development activities.

A member of the foundation's staff recognised it from a photo in the newspapers.

At the end of last week the canvas was brought to Bern for the exhibition.

Museum director Matthias Frehner could throw no light on the mystery of its temporary disappearance.

"We are very happy that it's now in our exhibition, and I can say it is in a good condition," he told swissinfo.

"What happened, who came to the collector and said he wanted to bring the painting to our museum - we all would like to know this, also the police and the collector himself."

A key painting

The canvas, which dates from 1893, is now displayed with later, larger landscapes which Hodler completed after 1900.

It is a sombre picture, showing an alley lined with bare mulberry trees.

"It's one of the most important symbolic landscapes Hodler ever did," Frehner explained. He linked it to Hodler's important figurative painting The Night. "The essence of his fear of death is also in this landscape."

"The large post-1900 light-filled landscapes are much more popular with collectors than a complex, sombre picture from the artist's early phase. But from the point of view of art history this is quite equal to them. It is a simply wonderful work," he said.

Speculation

The speculation about what happened to the painting between autumn 2006 and spring 2008 is rife.

What is certain is that the picture has become much better known. One theory is that its new-found fame could boost its value on the art market.

It was originally bought by collector Georg Reinhart in 1913, and was eventually inherited by his grandson, Andreas, in 1997.

According to newspaper reports, Andreas Reinhart gave the painting to his ex-wife, and it was from her house that it disappeared. Reinhart has denied speculation that the whole story is connected with a family quarrel or with attempts to obtain insurance money or a ransom.

He suggested to the Sonntagsblick newspaper that the woman who took the painting had indeed intended to steal it, but then got cold feet and had slipped it into the Volkart Foundation premises.

It is not known how long the picture had been in the Volkart archive.

Police investigations are still underway.

The mystery has raised the profile of the Hodler exhibition, which has already proved very popular, attracting about 1,000 visitors a day.

"I would be glad if visitors who have seen the exhibition without this painting now come back and see it with this painting, which is a very important key piece in this exhibition," Frehner told swissinfo.

"All's well that ends well," he remarked.

swissinfo, Julia Slater

The Hodler exhibition

The exhibition at the Bern Museum of Fine Arts runs until August 10.
It is the first major Hodler exhibition since 1983.
In its first three weeks it attracted an average of 1,000 visitors a day.
With a budget of around SFr2 million ($1.99 million), it is one of the most expensive in the museum's history.
The Bern Cantonal Lottery Fund will cover a quarter of the costs. Other sponsors are Credit Suisse bank, Mobiliar insurance company, the Bern city government and the Ernst Göhner Foundation of Zug.

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