1890 – 1956 Emil Georg Bührle – industrialist and art collector
Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Bührle, 1951/52

1951–1956: International entrepreneur and patron of the Kunsthaus Zürich

Emil Bührle’s business now expanded into a diversified corporation with holdings in companies in Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, India and Chile. Anti-aircraft systems manufactured in Italy and Sweden by its Contraves subsidiary were deployed by various NATO member states. The Pilatus aircraft factory in Stans developed a series of training aircraft for the Swiss Army. There were also successes with the manufacture of civilian products including braking systems, office equipment, textile machines and plastics. In 1953 extensive plants were constructed for Oerlikon Tools and Arms Corporation of America in Asheville, North Carolina. In October 1956, Emil Bührle celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Werkzeugmaschinenfabrik Oerlikon with the employees of the company headquarters.

In 1951-1952, Oskar Kokoschka painted a portrait of Emil Bührle. In 1952 and 1953, instead of the Prize for Swiss Painting, a competition for the Prix Buhrle was organised in Paris. Bührle did not make the selections himself as he would have done for his own collection, but appointed a jury consisting of representatives of Parisian artistic life. The winners were typical representatives of the Paris school, which was widely known at the time.

In 1951 Emil Bührle donated to the Kunsthaus Zürich two large water lily paintings by Claude Monet that he had chosen during a visit to Giverny. The paintings were paid for out of the building fund for the planned extension, which had already been used to finance the purchase of a version of Auguste Rodin’s Gates of Hell for the Kunsthaus.

Following a popular vote, construction of the exhibition gallery at Heimplatz donated by Emil Bührle to the Kunsthaus Zürich began at the end of 1954. The benefactor’s collection was to be exhibited there for the opening, and Emil Bührle delayed decisions regarding a permanent presentation of his collection in view of this project. Although normally generous when it came to loaning pictures, he became more reserved with regard to the exhibition in Zurich.

28 November 1956:

Emil Bührle died in Zurich, leaving neither a will nor instructions on what was to be done with his art collection.