Dürrenmatt revealed as more than a distinguished writer

Centre Dürrenmatt in Neuchatel

The official opening this weekend of a new museum in Neuchatel reveals that one of Switzerland's best-known authors and playwrights, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, was also a talented painter.

This content was published on September 22, 2000 - 16:59

Built where he lived for many years and overlooking Lake Neuchatel, the Centre Dürrenmatt will be the permanent home of paintings and drawings on which the author spent much of his time when not writing novels and plays.

Few of the many people in Switzerland and abroad who have read his books and seen his plays knew that Dürrenmatt was more than a literary artist. Yet up to the age of 20 he could not decide whether to become a writer or a painter.

And although he eventually decided on writing as a profession, he remained true to his other passion, producing ink drawings and paintings with gouache.

"He was never taught how to paint or draw," says his widow, Charlotte Kerr Dürrenmatt. "He was an autodidact, and amateur in the true sense of the word. Painting for him was release from his self-imposed shackles, from the Sisyphean task of writing."

Dürrenmatt, who died in 1990, left instructions in his will that the pictures were to go on public view.

Until then only his closest friends knew of them and only twice did he allow them to be exhibited - once in a small gallery owned by his publisher, and later in Neuchatel, after receiving an honorary doctorate from the town where he lived for 35 years.

The museum, designed by Swiss architect Mario Botta, incorporates the house where Dürrenmatt lived and wrote. His pictures are in a subterranean exhibition space, with natural light from above which will vary with changes of weather and according to the time of day.

The pictures include "Last General Assembly of Confederate Swiss Banking Association", which is painted in oil and full of the satirical black humour which was his trademark as a writer. Some bankers are portrayed holding guns to their heads while eating dinner, while others have hanged themselves from chandeliers or are lying drunk under the table.

by Richard Dawson

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