Hiking in Switzerland. Museum Edition

Explore Switzerland through 19th century paintings.

Before the rise of Realism, romanticized versions of the world around us were common in art. But Realism is based on the direct observation of the real and existing without embellishment. Artists such as Rudolf Koller and Robert Zünd left the four walls of their studios behind, wandered into nature and painted detailed artworks in plein air, as it was the common practice for landscape painters of their time.

This allowed them to capture the effects of light and atmosphere, as well as the natural forms and colours of the Swiss countryside, with greater accuracy and immediacy. Here, we selected five artworks showing places worth (and real enough) visiting!

Gruyères (1866) by Auguste Baud-BovyKunsthaus Zürich

Castle of Gruyères

canton: Fribourg
level: easy
duration: 20 minutes
elevation: 822 m
altitude difference: + 85 m

Auguste Baud, having spent much of his childhood at the Gruyère castle as a regular guest of the owner families Bovy and Balland, developed a strong connection to the historic site. Built in the 13th century, this medieval town is reachable from the train station with a 20 minutes hike. Admire the castle, walk through the cemetery and pay a visit to the H. R. Giger museum; origin to the Gruyère cheese, it is generally accepted to enjoy a Fondue even in summer.

Two years after this painting was created, Baud married the painter Zoé-Jeanne-Suzanne Bovy. Baud adopted his wife's last name, becoming known as 'Baud-Bovy', honoring their shared artistic pursuits.

Gruyères, Auguste Baud-Bovy, 1866, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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High Alps with Cattle (1897) by Rudolf KollerKunsthaus Zürich

Mountain Pass

canton: Bern
level: easy
duration: 2 hours
elevation: 2'026 m
altitude difference: - 171 m

Nowadays, Rudolf Koller is celebrated for his depictions of animals – but he created hundreds of landscape oil paintings during his lifetime.

The so-called Kleine Scheidegg is a mountain pass between the famous Eiger and Lauberhorn. While there are many possible hiking routes, here is one recommendation to share the view that Koller was facing 130 years ago. A cable-way takes you from Wengen up to the summit of Männlichen, from where a ridge-way leads past steep mountains and valley views to the Kleine Scheidegg. You can't miss the cows; undoubtedly one of Koller's most reoccurring motives.

High Alps with Cattle, Rudolf Koller, 1897, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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Mountain Lake in the Grisons with Approaching Thunderstorm (1886) by Johann Gottfried SteffanKunsthaus Zürich

Mountain Lake

canton: Grisons
level: moderate
duration: 2 hours
elevation: 2'314 m
altitude difference: + 520 m

Admittedly, we don't know where in the Grisons Johann Gottfried Steffan found this exact mountain lake (and it is even likely that the scene depicted in the painting was based on a composite of different locations he visited), but they are all worth a visit.

The Lai da Palpuogna is slightly bigger, but shows similar surroundings of mountains and pines and shares the timber line. It's a 45 minutes hike from Preda, or it can be turned into a longer and more demanding adventure by climbing the Albula pass, which thrones 400 meters above. No swimming in the Lai da Palpuogna.

Mountain Lake in the Grisons with Approaching Thunderstorm, Johann Gottfried Steffan, 1886, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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Edge of the Woods with Flock of Sheep (1896–1897) by Robert ZündKunsthaus Zürich

Nature Reserve

canton: Lucerne
level: easy
duration: -
elevation: 457 m
altitude difference: -

Friends with Rudolf Koller, Robert Zünd shared his colleague's passion for Realist Swiss landscape paintings. Zünd was born and died in Lucerne and this oak forest was located in today's nature reserve Allmend, now surrounded by the urban outskirts of Lucerne, en route to Horw. The nature reserve offers a wide diversity of habitats; rare dragonflies, grasshoppers, butterflies and reptiles can be discovered here.

Edge of the Woods with Flock of Sheep, Robert Zünd, 1896–1897, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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Oak Forest, Robert Zünd, 1881–1882, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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On the Bank of the Maggia in the Evening (1893) by Ferdinand HodlerKunsthaus Zürich

River Delta

canton: Ticino
level: moderate
duration: 3 hours
elevation: 200 m
altitude difference: + 462 m

The Monte Verità, here seen from the Maggia delta at Lago Maggiore, served as a gathering place for various alternative movements, attracting life-reformers, artists, writers, pacifists, and supporters, but its significance diminished after 1940. All of that took place after Ferdinand Hodler created this peaceful, in golden light dunked evening landscape. It is probably safe to say that a lot has happened in this area since 1893, but the Maggia still attracts a lot of hikers.

Visit this historic hill that still functions as a cultural-historic site with various offers, or choose to follow the Maggia upstream starting in Locarno or the station Ponte Brolla right outside. The road will take you along the  Valle Maggia up to the town of Maggia, over multiple suspension bridges and past old Ticinese cottages.

While the Maggia delta does not look exactly the same anymore, the Valle Maggia makes up for it with it's own beauty.

On the Bank of the Maggia in the Evening, Ferdinand Hodler, 1893, From the collection of: Kunsthaus Zürich
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While we can only gaze longingly at a Caspar David Friedrich and dream of such places, now we can put on our hiking boots and actually visit the sceneries depicted in those paintings. Realism is calling, and we shall answer!

Always make sure to check with local resources or online guides for accurate and up-to-date information on hiking trails and any necessary permits or restrictions before embarking on your journey.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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