Ticino has long been a place of cultural pilgrimage and inspiration. At the start of the 1900s, writers, artists and followers of various alternative movements flocked to the foot of Monte Verità. Their shared legacy – including that of Swiss expressionist Ignaz Epper – lives on to this day. In celebration of this legacy, a selection of Epper’s artistic works will be on display at Casa Epper until March 2024.
Ignaz Epper was born in 1892 in St. Gallen, the centre of the embroidery industry at the time. In a period marked by strikes and violence, the young Epper found refuge in his art. He later received an art scholarship for his exceptional drawings. During the First World War, Epper used art as a way to process what he had seen and experienced: his woodcuts of this era are thematically dominated by human tragedy. As one of the first Swiss artists of the Expressionist movement, Epper embraced the full spectrum of compositional possibilities offered by Expressionism, with early works characterised by the interplay of perspective, subject matter and light. His works are brought to life exclusively using hard, dark strokes and white notches. Epper eschews the use of colour contrast in favour of a dark red or dull ochre: a mirror to his internal world.
With his marriage to Mischa Quarles van Ufford in 1919, Epper’s inner turmoil began to subside. These internal changes can be seen in his art: the strokes become softer, the works friendlier in nature.
It was later, in Ascona, that he found the inner peace he had so long sought. Together, he and Mischa built what is now known as Casa Epper in the grounds of the Hotel Eden Roc: a building that became their home and place of work. The views of Lake Maggiore, the lightness of Mediterranean living and the Ticinese attitude to life appeared to soothe the artist’s soul. Together with his wife, he attended Eranos conferences and got to know the psychologist and philosopher Carl Gustav Jung. Epper actively engages with the messages of Jung’s philosophy through his art.
As Epper’s life had changed, so his art followed. Flowers became his favoured motif – inspired by the flowers in his large garden, which is maintained by the hotel to this day.
A selection of Epper’s paintings from this period of his life will return to Casa Epper – the place they were created – to be put on display to visitors until March 2024. Featuring various perspectives on and from Ascona, the works provide a fascinating glimpse into the artist’s view of Ticino. The focus, however, is on the flowers. Standing starkly in contrast to Epper’s early works, the images exude positivity, are bright with colour, and exert a soothing effect on the observer. They are mainly watercolours, though oil paintings and a xylograph can also be found among the works on display.
The observer is taken back in time to the Ascona of a bygone age. Yet while times have moved on, not everything has changed: a glance out of the window reveals many parallels with the present. As well as painting a picture of history, the images afford profound insights into the artist’s techniques; some of the works exude an almost plastic quality.
Though these later works radiate a clear joie de vivre, Epper sadly chose to end his life in 1969. Thankfully, his impressive artistic legacy lives on.
Epper’s art was preserved through the efforts of his wife and the creation of the Fondazione Epper. Today, his house, studio and beloved garden offer guests of the Hotel Eden Roc a haven of calm: an unrivalled place for peace and introspection.