MCBA currently houses over ten thousand works of art in its collection, covering the visual arts in general as well as special holdings of works by artists with connections to the canton of Vaud.
The collection, dating back to 1816, consists not only of acquisitions, but also of donations, co-purchases, and long-term loans by individuals and organisations across the canton and elsewhere in Switzerland, including Arts Visuels Vaud, the Swiss Confederation, and the Gottfried Keller Foundation. The canton’s cultural activities commission also acquires works of contemporary art by Vaud-based artists for the collection.
Ancient and Modern Art (prior to 1945)
The collection includes works of art dating back to Antiquity, though the richest holdings date from the latter half of the eighteenth century.
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artists left the canton of Vaud for Rome and Paris in search of formal training in art and a significant market for their work. Louis Ducros, one of the most eminent watercolourists of his day, settled in Italy, where his idealised versions of Roman monuments and southern landscapes delighted travellers on the Grand Tour. Jacques Sablet, known as the “sun painter”, brought the human figure seamlessly into landscapes.
Charles Gleyre’s works illustrate the rise of formal academic training in art. He was an Orientalist, portraitist, and history painter whose work displays both Romantic and Classical features. He began teaching in his Paris studio in 1843, where among his students were the future Impressionists Bazille, Monet, Renoir, and Sisley, and rising stars of the Swiss school. Landscapes by Diday, Calame and Corot and genre scenes by Léopold Robert, Benjamin Vautier and Albert Anker shaped the work of Félix Vallotton, a caustic observer of the bourgeois private sphere. Vallotton’s art, revolutionary even for the avant-garde Nabi group, heralds the bold, detached approach of Magic Realism. His mature work reflects his mastery of “composed landscapes”, inspired by Poussin’s historical landscapes. Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen’s oeuvre echoes that of Delacroix, Daumier and Doré. The widespread distribution of his posters and illustrations for leading periodicals and his deep commitment to the libertarian, pacifist cause make him a major figure at the turn of the twentieth century.
A generous bequest by Dr Henri-Auguste Widmer in the 1930s enriched the collection with major Impressionist, Symbolist, and Post-Impressionist masterpieces. Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Vuillard, Bonnard, Denis, Rodin and Maillol rub shoulders with the Swiss artists François Bocion, Eugène Burnand, Ernest Biéler, Louise Breslau, Ferdinand Hodler, Giovanni Giacometti, and Marius Borgeaud. Cubism and Futurism are represented by Alice Bailly, Gustave Buchet and René Auberjonois.
Modern art beyond the mainstream is represented by two Outsider Art creators, Louis Soutter and Aloïse.
The museum’s acquisition policy for ancient and modern art aims to build a unique collection: come to Lausanne for art you won’t see elsewhere! The worldwide reputation won by artists such as Vallotton and Gleyre in retrospectives at major museums across Europe, Japan, and the United States has raised mcb-a’s profile internationally.
Our ambition is also to acquire works that place the collection in a broader national and international context, with a focus on Orientalism, Naturalism, Symbolism, Art social, the Nabis, Purism, Magic Realism and Miserabilism. For example, alongside major works by Ducros, Sablet and Vallotton, mcb-a has recently acquired an Orientalist Egyptian landscape by Gleyre’s pupil Jean-Léon Gérôme, a Naturalist portrait by Charles Giron, and Symbolist works by the Italian artist Plinio Nomellini and the French artist Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer. It has also added to its Giovanni Giacometti holding with a loan of drawings by Alberto Giacometti, and hopes to develop this special collection further. Similarly, the museum is actively seeking to acquire works for its Soutter holding by Soutter’s cousin Le Corbusier and by Jean Dubuffet.
Félix Vallotton, a highlight of the collection
Contemporary art (1945 to the present day)
The collection holds some significant works of Tachism, Abstract Expressionism, Arte Informale (Maria Elena Veira da Silva, Charles Rollier, Rolf Iseli), and Neorealism (Daniel Spoerri), although major schools of immediate postwar art are somewhat under-represented.
MCBA embraced the leading trends in contemporary art in hosting the Salon international de galeries-pilotes in 1963, 1966, and 1970, opening its doors to galleries from around the world to present works of Geometric Abstraction, Constructivist Art, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Kinetic Art, Pop Art, and Land Art, and acquiring works by Marcel Broodthaers, Tadeusz Kantor, Lucebert and Michio Yoshihara for its collection. The regular exhibition series Rencontre avec… from 1972 to 1982 likewise brought many Vaud-based artists into the collections.
The early 1970s saw Video Art being shown for the first time at MCBA, with works by two Swiss pioneers of the medium, Jean Otth and Janos Urban. Over the decades they have been joined in the collection by leading exponents of the medium such as Bill Viola, Bruce Nauman, Francis Alÿs, Harun Farocki, Silvie Defraoui, and Yael Bartana and rising stars such as Emmanuelle Antille, Pauline Boudry, and Anne-Julie Raccoursier.
The return to expressive figurative art in the 1980s is broadly represented in the collection, with a particular focus on Neo-Expressionism including big names from the German-speaking art world such as Arnulf Rainer, Günther Brus, Martin Disler, Miriam Cahn, Luciano Castelli, Klaudia Schifferle, and Silvia Bächli. Other figurative artists represented in the collection are Jean-Frédéric Schnyder, Leiko Ikemura, and Albert Oehlen.
In selecting works from the many trends in art from the 1990s to the present day, mcb-a’s policy is to acquire major pieces by international artists showcased in solo exhibitions at the museum, including Bruce Nauman, Christian Boltanski, Jim Shaw, Sophie Calle, Tom Burr, Alfredo Jaar, Renée Green, Esther Shalev-Gerz, Kader Attia, and Nalini Malani. It also actively seeks to acquire works by artists from the region, whether they work in Switzerland or elsewhere, such as Jean-Luc Manz, Alain Huck, Robert Ireland, Fabrice Gygi, Silvie Defraoui, Philippe Decrauzat, Didier Rittener, Denis Savary, Annaïk Lou Pitteloud, Julian Charrière, Sandrine Pelletier, and Guillaume Pilet, among others. This aspect of the museum’s work is supported by the canton’s cultural affairs commission.
In recent years, MCBA’s acquisition policy has focused on developing its extant holdings, particularly of works by Swiss and Vaud-based artists. Examples include a monumental monochrome abstract painting by Olivier Mosset acquired in 2015, and canvases by Claudia Comte, Sylvain Croci-Torti and Philippe Decrauzat. In the narrative trend, a canvas by Thomas Huber has been added to the significant holding of his work at the museum, and two major canvases by Valérie Favre have likewise been acquired. Works have been purchased to add to extant holdings by artists such as Alain Huck, Julian Charrière, Silvie Defraoui, Renée Green and Marcel Broodthaers. MCBA expanded its Jean Otth video art collection in 2015 with a series of major pieces, some purchased, others donated by the artist’s heirs.
Recent donations and loans of works by Zao Wou-Ki and Balthus have significantly expanded mcb-a’s contemporary art collection. Private individuals have made or promised donations to mark the opening of the new museum building, considerably developing its holdings in postwar art, with works of Abstract Expressionism, the Paris School, and Arte Povera by artists such as Pierre Soulages, Giuseppe Penone, Flavio Paolucci and Mario Merz, as well as individual works by Rebecca Horn, William Kentridge, and Anselm Kiefer.
Publications / Artists' books
A collection under construction
MCBA’s new higher profile with the opening of dedicated rooms for the permanent collection at the future museum on the PLATEFORME 10 premises near Lausanne Station in Autumn 2019 is encouraging private individuals to donate or loan first-ranking works of ancient, modern, and contemporary art. The 2006 law on acceptance in lieu of major works of art has proved another rich source of acquisitions for the collection.