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Hans A. Lüthy: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Apr 09, 2009

Petra ten-Doesschate Chu works in the Department of Art, Music, and Design at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, and June Hargrove teaches nineteenth-century European painting and sculpture at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Hans A Luthy

Hans A. Lüthy

With the death of Hans A. Lüthy, on March 8, 2009, art history has lost a scholar and a leader, a catalyst whose vision and philanthropy contributed to the growth of the discipline in Europe and America.

Born in 1932, Lüthy studied art history in Zurich, where he wrote a dissertation on the nineteenth-century Swiss landscape painter Johann Jakob Ulrich II (1965). In 1963, he was appointed director of the Schweizerisches Institut für Kunstwissenschaft (SIK), or Swiss Institute for Art Research in Zürich, a position that he would hold for more than thirty years. Founded in 1951, the SIK became a major research institute under his directorship, the influence of which was felt both at home and abroad. Lüthy, indeed, pursued a two-pronged agenda: one, to research Switzerland’s artistic patrimony and to disseminate that research through exhibitions and publications; and, two, to promote Swiss art abroad, particularly in the United States. He was responsible for the organization of several exhibitions of Swiss art in the US, including From Liotard to Le Corbusier: 200 Years of Swiss Painting, 1730–1930 in the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and monographic exhibitions of the works of Ferdinand Hodler. His energy and commitment brought a new dimension to the awareness of Swiss art here.

Lüthy’s scholarly pursuits were focused on nineteenth-century French art, and he maintained an active publishing career, which included numerous articles for the press, notably the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Since his retirement in 1994, Lüthy remained actively involved in art history. Through a private foundation, he and his wife, Marianne (Mascha), funded several research and writing projects. One of these was Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, which would not have come into being if not for his generous start-up grant. For this, the Association of Historians of Nineteenth-Century Art owes him a debt of gratitude. The couple also contributed a scholarship to the Centre allemande d’histoire de l’art (Deutsche Forum für Kunstgeschichte) in Paris.

At the same time, he began to collect art. As a collector his taste tended to French neoclassical and Romantic drawings, a predilection that was no doubt related to his life-long interest in the work of Théodore Géricault. He also assembled a small but significant collection of sculpture of the same period. A selection of drawings and sculpture from his collection was exhibited in 2002 in the Kunstmuseum in Bern, on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.

During the past few years, Lüthy’s ill health prevented him from staying in touch with many former friends and acquaintances. Those who knew him, and I am sure there are many of us in the US, remember him fondly for his genuine kindness, his enthusiasm, and his generosity of spirit. He was a raconteur and bon vivant whose presence enlivened many an occasion, scholarly and otherwise. He will be much missed.

Filed under: Obituaries