Nine highlights from the Rupf Collection at Guggenheim Bilbao

By Mark Sheerin | 25 November 2016

A virtual tour of some of the most impressive modernist and contemporary artworks in a leading Swiss collection, currently shown in Spain for the first time.

Flat, semi-abstract painting of a full moon over a green garden
Paul Klee, Vollmond im Garten (1934) © La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf
Whoever should attempt to build a collection of work to define our century, it will not be a humble shopkeeper. But in the first half of the 20th century haberdasher Hermann Rupf and his wife Magrit brought from all the right people at the right times.

The results can be seen in one of Europe’s great galleries, the Guggenheim in Biblao, who now have the means to show a survey of abstract and minimal art that is at once comprehensive and domestic. 

Drawing of a bald man in a suit
Pablo Picasso, Portrait de D.-H. Kahnweiler II (1957)© La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf
Picasso, Retrato de D-H Kahnweiler I,II & III

Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler was a lifelong friend of Hermann Rupf and a longtime supporter of Picasso and the cubist movement. But it is quite in keeping with the artist’s uncompromising vision that this series of 1957 portraits fails to flatter. It remains clear, though, that as a subject, Kahnweiler held the great man’s interest. These expressionistic studies were rattled off in a single day.

Colourful landscape in France with limited details and flat tones
Andre Derain, Paysage aux Environs de Cassis (1907)© La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf
André Derain, Paisaje Cercano a Cassis

This was Hermann Rupf’s first purchase, in the year it was painted 1907. With it’s loose arrangement of tones and lack of linear structure it is hardly an entry-level piece of modern art. Although with the advent of Fauvism, its subject, a landscape in the South of France, was soon to preoccupy a number of rough and ready painters en plein air, not least among them Matisse.

Georges Braque, Guitarra y Frutero

Braque himself was once a Fauve, but it is his trademark cubist style which most appealed to Rupf. As a result this persistent and perspicacious artist is well represented in the collection; of the 70 works on display at the Guggenheim, more than one in 10 is by Picasso’s oft-overlooked colleague. An aerial study of a guitar with its shifting planes and volumes, suits the Frank Gehry building here.

Juan Gris, Tres Cartas
With the manageable scale of its paintings and thematic interest in still lives and interior scenes, cubism emerges here as the perfect art style for a domestic collection. That’s assuming you were able to buy in the early years of the 20th century when it was relatively affordable. Gris adds some colour to his jumbled perspective and conjures a lively scene in which both guitar and cards await players.

Colour photo of a white walled gallery
Installation view, La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf at the Guggenheim in Bilbao© Guggenheim Bilbao
Fernand Léger, Composición con Dos Despertadores

The import of this agitated composition is not solely due to the bright interlocking elements and the two intensely busy alarm clock faces. One extraneous detail cannot be overlooked, in that the work dates from the year WWII broke out in Europe. Part abstract, part still life, the bold colours for which Léger is famous are here infected by plant tendrils which appear to crack the picture frame.

Auguste Macke, Terraza de Verano

Discovering a masterpiece in a bargain bin is a fairly common fantasy among art lovers. And this convivial summer scene by Macke changed hands in the notorious fire sale of ‘degenerate’ art curated by the Nazi party in 1939. The blank faces of his subjects allow the viewer to inhabit this restaurant and imagine 1912, but soon there would be no going back to this state of innocence.

Paul Klee, Montañas en Invierno

In talking about most collections we must also talk of the friendships that form between artist and collector. Hermann Rupf was good friends with the painter Paul Klee and this show celebrates that fact. Montañas en Invierno reminds us that the Rupf’s were building their avant garde collection from a base in Bern, Switzerland having been one of the most conservative countries in Europe.

Donald Judd, Sin Título, No. 85-065

It is unsurprising for an art collection which has been in business for some 110 years, that along the way there have been a few focal shifts. But nevertheless this sculpture by Donald Judd is a shock. In fact it has strong precedent in the spatial investigations carried out by Braque and Gris, the machine aesthetic of Fernand Leger and the ruthless lines of a Picasso. 

Installation view of three modernist sculptures on makeshift plinths assembled from old furniture
Florian Slotawa, Berner Sockel (2010)© La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf

Florian Slotawa, Pedestales de Berna

German artist Slotawa presents a show within a show: four table-top sculptures from the collection perch upon four makeshift plinths, created with furniture that once belonged to the Rupfs. There is some question, as a result of this cluster of composites, as to where the art work begins and ends. It also serves as a reminder of the intimate and private scale of this illustrious collection.

La Coleccion de Hermann y Margrit Rupf can be seen at the Guggenheim Bilbao until April 23 2016.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.
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