Hans Erni

Art on This Day


Today marks the birthday of Swiss painter, sculptor and illustrator Hans Erni. He was born in 1909 and died two years ago at the honorable age of 106. The work he produced was extremely varied, ranging from stamp designs over sculptures and engravings to ceramics and enormous frescoes. He even designed theatre costumes and sets. Over the years, he created more than 90 stamp designs for Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the United Nations. Being known for his activism, he also participated on the Olympic Committee and kept working for almost all his life.
Erni was born in Lucerne but studied art in Paris and Berlin. Painters like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque proved to be of great influence on him in his early days. His first public success was an enormous mural titled Switzerland, Vacation Land of the People for the 1939 national exhibition in Zurich. But his communist sympathies make him a boycotted and banned artist for the 20 years following after his first success. His artwork for Swiss bank notes in the 1940s was never published because of his communist sympathies. During the war years of 1940-1945, he was a soldier in the Swiss army and responsible for camouflage painting because of his experience with large murals.
Hans Erni, detail of Die Schweiz, das Ferienland der Völker, 1939
He kept painting for almost all his life and received several prizes for that. Well into his 80s, Erni even produced a series of paintings for the International Olympic Committee and a fresco for a church in Saint-Paul-de-Vence where he spent his holidays. “I am convinced that it is possible to express something even on the smallest space – supposing that you have something to say.” (Hans Erni)
Today, one can go see his works at the Hans Erni Museum in Lucerne. The museum is part of the Swiss Museum of Transport, for which he had realized a 30 meter long mural.