First full day of the ILAB Congress. I’ll skip our Monday morning guided tour of the Zentral- und Hochschulbibliothek and our lunch at the Zunftrestaurant Pfistern, except to say that the first was a delicious and smallish feast of early books, including the extant stage directions for an early Lucerne mystery play, and the second a delicious and largish feast in a riverside guildhouse, strong on good company and good cheer.
Thus fortified, we moved on to the Sammlung Rosengart, a bank converted to a museum of modern art by the Swiss art-dealer Angela Rosengart. The ground-floor a feast of (mainly) late Picassos – no diminution of power here, the questing genius burning hard and bright into old age, the works still modern, still genuinely of their time, not merely rehearsals of an earlier mode. The act of creation itself fused into the fabric of Le Peintre (1963). About to move on to the Paul Klee galleries downstairs – but, wait a minute, here in the room is Angela Rosengart herself, come just to talk to us. Up in years now, still beautiful, still elegant, still charming – Picasso’s dealer, Picasso’s friend, a woman painted some five times by the master himself – right here, right now. She offers us some mesmeric words on the real secret of successful dealing – Buy only with your heart, buy only as if you were buying for your own collection, deal only in pieces of your soul. So it is. Alain Moirandat, Swiss president and our host, whispers to me, “Isn’t she a gem”? No denying it – indeed she is. A presentation of flowers from Brigitta Laube (Switzerland) – a heartfelt thank-you for a moment of pure magic.
I resolve to drop out of the coach-trip to a country church and stay on and thoroughly explore the remainder of this extraordinary museum. A quiet word to that effect to the splendid Christina Maurer, our organiser-in-chief. But, wait, here is Alain
again with another quiet aside – another surprise ahead, another moment of magic in store. Do come. A quick mental rearrangement of my plans and I realise I can readily come back to the Rosengart before I fly home on Thursday, which I do. And what a feast it was – Klee prismatic, Klee chromatic, Klee mosaic, Klee unshowy, Klee subtle, Klee with fish, Klee early and scratchy –and beyond that, some fine Georges Braque and Henri Matisse, a delicious Modigliani Cariatide, Joan Miró with the exquisite tissue-of-the-universe Danseuse II, a marvellous Kandinsky (Formes Multiples, 1936), Fernand Léger, Maurice Utrillo, Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Pierre Bonnard, a wonderful Edouard Vuillard (Jardin des Tuileries, 1894), Camille Pissarro, an adorable Georges Seurat (Étude pour une Baignade, 1883-4), only perhaps a slightly insipid Raoul Dufy that I did not covet – and so many more that I did. This not to mention the other Picassos upstairs, the Rosengart portraits and lithographs, photographs of the great man, photographs of Angela Rosengart sitting for Picasso, etc. And beyond all that, the Chagalls – Le Peintre au Travail (1949) inscribed as a souvenir for Angela Rosengart, others inscribed to her, an original Chagall birthday card for her – and here framed up on the wall is Chagall’s palette from 1958. Extraordinary. It couldn’t conceivably belong to any other painter – colour, texture, intensity, it’s pure Chagall.
Meanwhile, the coach-trip to a country church. Of course, not just any church, but the seventeenth-century pilgrimage church of Hergiswald, high in the hills above Lucerne. Plainish in exterior, rich in interior, highest of baroque. Freshly restored, all gilt and lustrous. A ceiling of emblems and Latin tags. Magnificent – and still the surprise to come. Aloft in the gallery, Alain has secretly assembled an international group of top-notch musicians based in Basel – organ, violas da gamba, and a sweet and illustrious soprano. They treat us to three pieces of virtually unknown and long-lost baroque music – and here, in this place, it’s quite, quite, perfect. Audience rapt. Encore. Encore. We feast once more.
Thank you, Alain – both for laying on a superlative day and for persuading me not to miss this final magic.