Saturday, December 20, 2014

Rudolf Koller

The Hirtenhof (Farmyard)
around 1870
oil in canvas
71 x 95 cm
private collection

Rudolf Koller (1828-1905) was a Swiss painter whose reputation was based on his paintings of animals. Considered Switzerland's finest animal painter, he was a sensitive and innovative artist whose well-composed works in the "plein air" tradition, including Swiss mountain landscapes, are just as finely executed. He is associated with a realist and classicist style. His style is similar to that of the realist painters Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot.

He was born in Zurich. His father was a butcher and brewer, who became an innkeeper at a hotel, in the centre of the city near the river. As the clientele were mostly waggoners and cattle dealers, he saw horses and cattle on a daily basis. He got his first artistic tuition from his uncle, who was a landscape painter. The young Koller decided to specialize as a painter in depicting horses.

In 1845 horse trials were begun at the stud farm of the King of Wurttemberg, near Stuttgart, and Koller was hired to produce pictures of horses and dogs there. In 1846-47, he studied figure drawing at the Fine Arts Academy of Dusseldorf where he formed friendships with the future Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Bocklin. He travelled together with Arnold Bocklin to Brussels and Antwerp, in 1847. Later he moved to Paris. While living in Paris, he shared a studio with Arnold Bocklin. With the support of the artists’ colony at Barbizon, he painted scenes in outdoor settings. In 1848, plagued by financial difficulties, he returned from France to Zurich.

In 1862 he bought a chalet on the eastern shore of Lake Zurich, where he was to live for the rest of his life. There he kept various animals, mainly to study them as painting subjects. He often painted rustic farm scenes, landscapes and scenes that depicted animals. He loved animals and treated them in his pictures as representing part of the forces of unspoiled nature. In 1870 he began to suffer from a vision impairment that interfered with his work. Nevertheless, in 1873, still at the height of his artistic powers, he secured an assignment from the Swiss Northeastern Railway to produce a painting. The painting is recognized as one of the best ever done by a Swiss painter. In 1900 Koller travelled for the last time to Italy, where he met with his friend Bocklin near Florence. He died in 1905, aged 76, at his chalet.