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Dr. Emil Friedrich and Clara Friedrich-Jezler

Winterthur, Switzerland, 1892–Zürich, 1973, and Schaffhausen, Switzerland, 1894–Zürich, 1969

A 1926 visit to Swiss banker and collector Raoul La Roche’s Parisian villa, which housed an important collection of Cubist and Purist works, inspired Swiss collectors Dr. Emil Friedrich and Clara Friedrich-Jezler to build a collection of contemporary art. Rare among Swiss collectors of their generation in their taste for new, innovative art, especially Cubism and abstraction, Emil and Clara assembled a significant group of twentieth-century paintings and sculptures.

An amateur violinist and passionate music aficionado, Emil studied law and worked as an administrator for the Winterthur Health Services and the Association of Swiss Shoe Industrialists before founding Bank Friedrich in Zurich in 1925. He remained the bank’s sole owner for twenty-five years and later became a shareholder; the bank is still in operation today, under the name Rüd, Blass & Cie. As a member of the Zürcher Kunstgesellschaft (Zurich Art Society) since the 1920s, Emil was also instrumental in initiating Picasso’s first museum retrospective at the Kunsthaus Zürich in 1932, which traveled there from the Galeries Georges Petit in Paris.

Clara showed an interest in crafts and art making from an early age, perhaps predisposed by her parent’s silver goods manufactory, and studied French language and culture in Paris. Clara is generally also considered the primary force behind the couple’s collecting activities. Not only did she frequent the galleries of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler and Léonce Rosenberg from the late 1920s but, over time, she also acquired works directly from Parisian artists and architects she knew, including Georges Braque, Le Corbusier, Juan Gris, Fernand Léger, and Pablo Picasso. She began to explore her own artistic ambitions in the 1930s and, encouraged by Hans Arp, became a practicing artist herself, studying under Adolf Hözl in Stuttgart and Amédée Ozenfant in Paris. A member of the Zurich school of concrete artists, Clara became inspired to acquire international non-objective art. The couple’s Arp collection was second only to their holdings of Picasso’s work. In addition to collecting art, Clara assembled a library documenting the evolution of modern art, which she put up for auction at Kornfeld & Klipstein in Bern just before her death in 1969.

Between 1926 (probably the year of their first acquisitions) and 1939, Clara and Emil purchased an average of one to two works per year. The couple also received a number of works as gifts from artist friends. The collection featured objects by Arp, Braque, Le Corbusier, Robert Delaunay, Theo van Doesburg, Max Ernst, Gris, Henri Laurens, Léger, Jacques Lipchitz, Piet Mondrian, Ozenfant, Alice Paalen, and Picasso, among others. In 1929, for example, they acquired Léger’s Two Women with a Still Life (First state, 1920; Kunstmuseum Winterthur) from Léonce Rosenberg and the following year Picasso’s The Student (1910–11; lost; Daix and Rosselet 1979, no. 369), which had formerly belonged to André Breton. The latter work was lost in late 1940 when a truck carrying paintings from the Friedrich collection out of Zurich for safekeeping during the Second World War caught fire. Among those works that burned was also Paul Klee’s Monastery Garden (1926; lost), which the couple had acquired for 3,100 Swiss francs at the infamous Galerie Fischer auction in Lucerne in 1939. In total, ten works were destroyed in the fire: two by Braque, three by Gris, one by Kandinsky, one by Klee, and three by Picasso. Most of them were Cubist paintings that the National Socialists, threatening to enter Switzerland at this time, considered worthless. The Friedrichs, however, starting in 1940, acquired Cubist works from the collection of the German-born, Swiss-based collector Gottlieb Friedrich Reber, which helped to replace those that had been destroyed. In subsequent years the couple made infrequent acquisitions; the last was probably a bronze cast of Arp’s sculpture Geometric-Ageometric (1940; Kunstmuseum Winterthur), which the couple bought around 1954–55.

During their collecting years, the couple’s residence at Attenhoferstrasse 10 also served as a gathering hub for artists and art critics, especially after openings for retrospectives at the Kunsthaus Zürich such as those of Picasso (1932), Léger (1933), and Le Corbusier (1938). Among those who enjoyed their hospitality were artists Hans and Marguerite Arp, Max Bill, Leo Leuppi, Picasso, and Hanns Welti; architects Ernst F. and Elsa Burckhardt, Le Corbusier, Werner M. and Silva Moser, and Alfred Roth; and historians Siegfried and Carola Giedion-Welcker. The Friedrichs also maintained written correspondences with the Arps, Piet Mondrian, and Antoine Pevsner.

Upon Emil Friedrich’s death in 1973, the couple’s entire collection was bequeathed to the Kunstmuseum Winterthur.

For more information, see:

Blass, Brigit, and Rudolf Koella. Eine Pioniersammlung moderner Kunst: Das Legat Clara und Emil Friedrich-Jezler im Kunstmuseum Winterthur. Zurich: Bankgeschäft Rüd, Blass & Cie, 1985.

Daix, Pierre, and Jean Rosselet. Picasso: The Cubist Years, 1907−1916: A Catalogue raisonné of the Paintings and Related Works. Boston: New York Graphic Society, 1979.

Experiment Sammlung II - fünf Sammlungen für das Museum: Schenkung W, Legat Friedrich-Jezler, Sammlung Volkart Stiftung, Sammlung Burgauer, Sammlung A. Exh. cat. Winterthur: Kunstmuseum Winterthur, 1984.

Geelhaar, Christian. Picasso: Wegbereiter und Förderer seines Aufstieges, 1899-1939. Zurich: Palladion/ABC Verlag, 1993. See esp. 126–27.

How to cite this entry:
Mahler, Luise, "Dr. Emil Friedrich and Clara Friedrich-Jezler," The Modern Art Index Project (August 2018), Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.