Jussy, Switzerland. Sometimes, all it takes is a click for the foundations of an artistic affinity to be laid. For Yves Micheli, who has been exhibiting his private collection to the public since the beginning of the summer in his family property, the Château du Crest, it all begins with a childhood memory: “My father brought home for Christmas 1946 a small painting by Alexandre Calame entitled “In the Woods of Jussy” which fascinated, even captivated, me when I was ten years old. This first painting was followed by a few others, so that I quite naturally began to acquire paintings by Genevan painters myself. »
If the region lacks neither collectors, nor patrons, nor private museums, this collection, housed at the Château du Crest, in Jussy, on the border with Savoie, integrated since 1995 into the Micheli-du-Crest Foundation, has the particularity of being entirely devoted to the painting of the Geneva school. In this, it constitutes a challenge, with a line clearly assumed by the octogenarian collector: “I fear that today it is fashionable, socially speaking, to own and display modern paintings likely to impress visitors, to show that one is “in” and, alternatively, rich enough to be offer them! When I spoke about my project to so-called connoisseurs, I was sometimes called “nerdy” or even a “postcard collector”. It doesn’t matter to me, because there are a plethora of wonderful Genevan artists, often little-known, not to say unknown, who I want to discover, or rediscover. »
An outdoor painting
Of the 200 works that make up Yves Micheli’s collection – which will be enriched over time – around a hundred are presented in the museum’s new spaces, made up of two large rooms. We find mainly paintings, some sculptures and drawings, all stamped “School of Geneva”. The exhibition is chronological, from the end of the 17th century to the mid-20th century. The artists exhibited were born in Geneva, studied there or spent the majority of their careers there.
In the history of Swiss art, Geneva serves as an artistic melting pot for several generations of artists, who have distinguished themselves in particular in landscape painting, where mountain views compete with representations of Lake Geneva, a true jewel for regional painters. The “Collection du Crest” is made up of artists who have dominated the Geneva scene: pastel portraits by Jean-Étienne Liotard, landscapes and genre paintings by Wolfgang-Adam Töpffer, animal paintings by Jacques-Laurent Agasse – a celebrity in his time who established himself in London as a painter of horses and dogs of the English aristocracy -, but also masters of the Swiss romantic landscape (Alexandre Calame, François Diday, Albert Lugardon), without forgetting paintings by Barthélemy Menn, who trained a whole generation of artists in outdoor painting – Auguste Baud-Bovy, Albert Trachsel and Édouard Vallet, but especially Ferdinand Hodler.
A part of snobbery
“Share our passion in the hope of contributing to the promotion of this painting that is so little and poorly known, or even provoke vocations! », announces Yves Micheli, who dreams of combining the discovery of local art and that of wine, from his wine estate. All that remains for this very young museum is to find its audience while this painting, previously collected, is today discredited for its regionalism. For Philippe Clerc, Geneva art historian and curator of the collection, “disinterest is unfortunately not specific to Geneva and seems to me to be quite general in French-speaking Switzerland. Regional painting is not very fashionable, left aside in favor of major contemporary trends or big international names. Make no mistake, there is a certain form of snobbery among both collectors and institutions. » It is therefore not surprising that this initiative is a private initiative. “The opening of the “Collection du Crest” is a first important milestone which, I hope, will allow all or part of this rich artistic heritage to be brought back to light,” enthuses the curator.