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Karl Ballmer

1891 - 1958
Karl Ballmer was a Swiss painter and philosopher, born in Aarau in 1891. After an artistic training as an illustrator, he worked for several years as an independent illustrator in Bern and Zurich, while also dedicating time to writing.

In 1918, he met philosopher Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925) and encountered anthroposophy, and this had a decisive influence on his work, particularly on his writings. His research was tinged with encyclopedic knowledge of the natural and spiritual sciences, his primary focus being on the cognitive sciences and the evolution of self-consciousness.

His career as an artist really took off in Hamburg, where he lived from 1922 to 1938. There he associated with author Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), as well as Max Sauerland (1880-1934), then director of the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, who became his main protector.

In the 1930s, he was one of the Hamburg Secession’s leading avant-garde artists. As a successful painter, he was slandered by the Nazis as a “degenerate” artist in 1937 and forced to return to Switzerland with his wife Katharina van Cleef, first moving to Basel, then to Tessin. In Lamone, near Lugano, where he spent the last twenty years of his life, he immersed himself in painting and writing in an almost total intellectual and artistic isolation, until his death in 1958.

A native of Aargau, Karl Ballmer is closely linked to the history of the Aargauer Kunsthaus. Two years after the artist’s death, the museum’s first curator, Guido Fischer, presented his work to the public in the form of a complete retrospective. Thirty years later, Beat Wismer, then director of the museum, deepened our understanding of his work through the solo exhibition Karl Ballmer. Der Maler.

The Karl Ballmer-Stiftung, founded at that time to administer the artist’s estate, donated to the museum some two hundred of the artist’s paintings and works on paper – an exceptional body of work that the institution is still working on bringing to light. In 2016, the Aargauer Kunsthaus provided another opportunity to discover his work through a major exhibition entitled Karl Ballmer. Kopf & Herz, which also presented works from private collections and from major German and Swiss museums.