A painting by Walter Haymann on cardboard
An example of Walter Haymann's print
Walter Haymann's painting
Walter Haymann's painting
Print by Walter Haymann

Walter Haymann, No Title (Mn praying in the synagogue), ca. 1980, JMS 1856.1.

Walter Haymann, No Title (wedding), 1972, JMS 1776.4.

Walter Haymann, No Titel (Praying men), ca. 1980, JMS 1781.7.

Walter Haymann, No Title (Men praying in the synagogue), ca. 1980, JMS 1781.13.

Walter Haymann, No Title (wedding ceremony), ca. 1980, JMS 1776.1.

«A reserved man, an unwavering artist.»

Gisela Zürrer on the Artist Walter Haymann

The Zurich artist Wal­ter Hay­mann (1926–2011) crea­ted an exten­si­ve body of land­scapes, still lifes – and a series of impres­si­ons of the syn­ago­gue on Löwen­stras­se. The Jewish œuvre shows the signi­fi­can­ce of reli­gi­on for a man who­se fami­ly wit­nessed pivo­tal events: the eman­ci­pa­ti­on of Jews in Switz­er­land, the Sho­ah, the foun­ding of the Sta­te of Isra­el, and the his­to­ri­cal recko­ning with the Nazi era. Muse­um direc­tor Nao­mi Lubrich spo­ke with Gise­la Zür­rer, pre­si­dent of the Wal­ter Hay­mann-Foun­da­ti­on, about an artist who is post­hu­mously being re-discovered.

Nao­mi Lubrich: Ms. Zür­rer, Why is Wal­ter Hay­mann, who was not well-known during his life­time, now attrac­ting new interest?

Gise­la Zür­rer: Wal­ter Hay­mann was a reser­ved man. In his youn­ger years, he asso­cia­ted with fel­low artists, but he later lived a most­ly pri­va­te life. His pain­tings are rich in color, per­haps too plea­sing for his time, which was inspi­red by the avant-gar­de. But Hay­mann remain­ed unwa­ve­ring in his artis­tic pur­suits. At the age of 83, he wan­ted to secu­re his œuvre of more than 3000 pain­ting. He sought advice from fri­ends and experts, inclu­ding Johan­nes Zür­rer, his stu­dent and fri­end. In 2010, he foun­ded a foun­da­ti­on with the pur­po­se of gai­ning visi­bi­li­ty for his work. That set a new dyna­mic in motion.

NL: What role does Juda­ism play in his art?

GZ: We own about a hundred images from the syn­ago­gue on Löwen­stras­se, Zurich. But the Jewish series is only a small part of his work, which other­wi­se con­sists of land­scapes and still lifes. The syn­ago­gue series is nevert­hel­ess artis­ti­cal­ly inte­res­t­ing: The style varies, the per­spec­ti­ve is always the same. The view­ers watch the ser­vice from the peri­phery, from behind or from the side. Hay­mann pain­ted an who­le cycle of his cou­sin Jac­ques Bollag’s wed­ding in 1972.

NL: What role did Juda­ism play in Haymann’s life?

GZ: Wal­ter Hay­mann was not a prac­ti­cing Jew, but he was inte­res­ted in reli­gi­on as phi­lo­so­phy. Juda­ism nevert­hel­ess infor­med his fami­ly histo­ry: Haymann’s mother’s known lineage goes back to the 18th cen­tu­ry. Her grand­fa­ther, Simon Weil, gai­ned citi­zen­ship even befo­re the Jewish eman­ci­pa­ti­on in 1866; her father Jakob Weil was Switzerland’s first Jewish lieu­ten­ant. But two gene­ra­ti­ons later, Wal­ter Hay­mann wit­nessed the rise of the Nazis. His fami­ly owned a lar­ge house and took in refu­gees, among them Haymann’s cou­sin Heinz Lau­fer from Munich. Heinz spent two years with the Hay­manns befo­re being expel­led by the Zurich poli­ce. He was arres­ted at the bor­der, depor­ted, and mur­de­red in Ausch­witz. Hay­mann had grie­ved a pain­ful loss alre­a­dy in child­hood: His sis­ter Tru­di died at the age of 14 from the flu, while Hay­mann, who had also caught the flu, sur­vi­ved. Walter’s later wife, Ire­ne, was a Holo­caust sur­vi­vor from Pol­and. They both dealt with a lot of grief – and survival.

NL: What other Jewish sub­jects did Wal­ter Hay­mann take inte­rest in?

GZ: Hay­mann lik­ed to tra­vel, among others to Isra­el. He pain­ted the Old City of Jeru­sa­lem and a kib­butz land­scape. Hay­mann also pain­ted Jewish places in Switz­er­land, for ins­tance the ceme­tery bet­ween Endin­gen and Len­gnau. And he drew illus­tra­ti­ons for Jewish scripture.

NL: What are your goals in secu­ring Haymann’s legacy?

GZ: Start­ing in 2021, my col­le­agues at the Wal­ter Hay­mann-Foun­da­ti­on and I began working on an online cata­log, an index. We are stu­dy­ing Haymann’s fami­ly histo­ry and are plan­ning exhi­bi­ti­ons of his works, both of which are goals of the foun­da­ti­on. There’s a lot to do!

NL: Thank you very much, Mrs. Zür­rer, for the work you are doing.

verfasst am 03.01.2024