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Britta Gelpke: A Student of Cuno Amiet

Together with the acquisition of four artworks to our gallerie, a story about a young student of Amiet came to our attention: the story of artist Britta Gelpke. She is portrayed in two of the four artworks and her story as an artist and as a student of Amiet is inseparably tied to these works of art. In this Blog we wanted to explore, document and present not only the four acquired artworks, but also the story of Britta Gelpke.

Fotographie Britta Gelpke bei Cuno Amiet

" 1948  Ein halbes Jahr in der Oschwand"
Fotos von Britta Gelpke
links: Britta Gelpke und Leni Stähli
rechts: Cuno Amiet

Britta Gelpke was not the only student that Amiet teached over the years. Between 1902 and 1948 his home in Oschwand became a destination for both aspiring and established artists to learn from Amiet and to draw and paint the beautiful landscape around Oschwand. Amiet drew portraits of many people he knew including his Students. His portrait paintings became a sort of guest book and historical testimony to all his friends and acquaintances. Some of his students reached fame such as Ernst Morgenthaler, Karl, Ballmer, Bruno Hesse and Lovis Corinth, others such as Britta Gelpke seem to have been almost forgotten. Some others he just advised but was never allowed to portray such as Winston Churchill.

Amiets influence can be seen in all of their works: landscapes painted with rich yellow and orange colors that contrast deep blues and purples. The landscape around Oschwand was recurring theme in many of their works, just as in Amiets work as well.

Cuno Amiet »Bildnis Emilie Amiet-Baer«, 1894, Inv.-Nr.1-2072

Cuno Amiet »Frau Sautter«, 1922, Inv.-Nr.1-2074, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Cuno Amiet «Frau mit rotem Hut (Emmy)», 1893, WVZ-Nr.: 1893.02, Privatsammlung Schweiz, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Cuno Amiet «Bildnis Juliette Trüssel», 1921, WVZ-Nr.: 1921.19, Privatsammlung Schweiz, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Cuno Amiet »Porträt von Kläri Ballmoos«, 1933, Inv.-Nr.1-2892, © D. Thalmann, Aarau

Cuno Amiet - Bildnis Britta Gelpke, 1948
Öl auf auf Pavatex
45 x 37 cm

Throughout his life Amiet consistently explored portrait painting, he experimented with different design principles, painting styles and compositions. The Portrait of Britta Gelpke from 1948 both carries the signature of Cuno Amiet as well seems to be experiment with styles and influences that he explored at the time. Amiet portrayed mostly people he knew, such as Britta who was a student of his at the time. She is a new face in this visual guest book of Amiets oeuvre. Her facial features are very individualized which leave no doubt that it is her. For the background Amiet chose the color yellow, which has a recurring and central role in his work. Franz Marc once wrote to his Friend August Macke about the color yellow: „Gelb das weibliche Prinzip, sanft, heiter und sinnlich.“ (= Yellow is female, soft, bright and sensual”) Which seems to apply well to this portrait of Britta Gelpke.

In the as the portrait he created a watercolor of his student Britta Gelpke. She is depicted drawing in garden, which is also a recurring theme in Amiets paintings: his lush and colorful garden scenes that radiate joy and joie de vivre. His garden, which he drew many times, was a source of creativity and subject of his artistic expression, an interest that he seemed to have passed on to his students through joint studies.

Cuno Amiet - Malschülerin im Garten, 1948
Aquarell auf Papier
36 x 27 cm

Cuno Amiet - Bildnis Britta Gelpke, 1948
Öl auf Pavatex
45 x 37 cm

Cuno Amiet - Blumengarten, 1948
Aquarell auf Papier
37 x 26 cm

Cuno Amiet - Bäumchen im Garten, 1928
Tusche und Aquarell auf Papier
28 x 23,5 cm

Amiet took pleasure in rich colors and lush gardens, something that he expressed in an other work that he left to Britta Gelpke. The abstracted composition shows a row of flowerpots on a cornice. The strong color contrast of blue and orange is prevalent this painting, not perspectivity. An aspect that he very much explored in his still life paintings. The result is an abstract composition of flowers and bushes that capture perfectly Amiets love for the simplicity and beauty in nature.


The watercolor „Bäumchen im Garten“ was also gifted to Britta Gelpke, it is dated about twenty years earlier than when Gelpke was his student. The fine ink lines and hatchings were drawn rapidly on the paper. The red and blue watercoloring was applied sparingly and appears only as a soft hue. Amiet often drew not only to study and capture nature scenes but to process ideas and impressions. He believed and teached principle „Zeichne, zeichne, zeichne!“ (= „Draw, draw, draw!“) to many of his students, possibly also to Britta Gelpke.

Britta Gelpke (25. Januar 1927 – 28. Juli 2019) was born in Saas but her family moved to the lowlands around Zurich, where she spend the majority of her childhood. Through her father, who was a doctor and painter, she became interested in the arts and decided to pursue this interest as a career. To ensure financial stability she completed an apprenticeship as a framemaker and gilder, before she dedicated herself to painting completely. In 1948 she became a pupil of Cuno Amiet took residence in Oschwand, the contact was probably established through her father. The friendship between Cuno Amiet and Britta Gelpke endured many years afterwards, in a postcard he also thanked her for making him some frames.

Britta worked and lived in Basel, where she had some exhibitions and was able to sell a few of her works, but the big success failed to happen, so she continued to work as a frame maker and gilder.

Her time as Amiets student left an impression throughout her life and work. In a commentary about her work she wrote: „Ich liebe die einfachen Farben Grün, Blau, Lila, Rot, Gelb. Und ich versuche mit einfachem Farbklang eine ganze Landschaft, eine Figur, eine Stimmung herzustellen...“ (=I love the simple colors, green, blue, purple, red and yellow. I always try to paint with a simple color scheme and create great landscapes, figures and atmospheres.“) An artistic position that she shared with Amiet.

In 1962 she met her husband and started a family, while still pursuing her art career. But in the 1980ies she gave in to exhaustion and frustration about the success that never came and the appreciation that stayed absent and she stopped painting altogether. One year after her death in August 2018 we wanted to give Britta Gelpke a stage and appreciation to her life, her work and to her relationship with Cuno Amiet. Art history is not only history of success, but also about the many not so successful stories.