Research projects

Art technology research into paintings by Cuno Amiet, 1883–1914

Led by
Karoline Beltinger
Ester S. B. Ferreira, Nadim C. Scherrer, Karin Wyss
Bern University of the Arts (HKB), natural science lab at the Conservation and Restoration department
Karoline Beltinger, Ester S. B. Ferreira, Karin Wyss


The project addressed the studio practice, painting technique and materials of Cuno Amiet (1868–1961); the focus was on the early œuvre until 1914.

About 60 works were examined to study the supports, ground layers, underdrawings, pigments and varnishes as well as peculiarities of Amiet’s technique and work processes. Use was made of stereomicroscopy, ultraviolet light, infrared reflectography, infrared transmission and X-rays; material analysis was able to draw on micro-X-ray fluorescence (µRFA), reflected light microscopy with sample sections, infrared microspectrometry (FTIR), polarised light microscopy (PLM), Raman spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy (SEM), direct temperature-resolved mass spectrometry (DT-MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS).
These analyses of the paintings were accompanied by a review of the correspondence, other writings by the artist and accounts by contemporaries, which were trawled for observations about Amiet’s painting technique, the origin and nature of his materials, and the specialist literature which artists drew on at the time. There was also an investigation of the influences to which the young artist was exposed while training in Munich, Paris and the Breton artist community of Pont-Avenand his later encounters with the work of the «Brücke» artists.

Amiet was fascinated by the expressive potential available to him from using different paint systems and application techniques. He began experimenting with technique during his early period. Amongst his interests were the «tempera paints» that were so popular all over Europe at the turn of the 20th century. The project team did not confine their research to Amiet, but also – with the aid of various sources – scrutinised other Swiss artists who tried out tempera around the same time. Specific references to tempera works from the period around 1900 were collected and the paint layers in some of these works were carefully examined during a follow-up project devoted to an analysis of tempera paints around 1900. Test findings were regularly compared with data from the source review.

The art history research for the catalogue raisonné Cuno Amiet. Die Gemälde 1883–1919 included issues of authenticity and chronology. An additional aspect of this project was an examination of the ageing processes to which Amiet’s paintings have been subjected. Damage observed in the paint layers of many early paintings was analysed and reconstructed. Knowledge about the chemical degradation processes behind these changes was enriched by targeted analysis, especially within a project devoted to reactivity and material transport in paintings.

The third volume in the series KUNSTmaterial was published by Scheidegger & Spiess.

The Annual Report for 2014 contains a focal feature about this project


Cuno Amiet, Self-Portrait with Wife, 1899, tempera on canvas, 76 x 52 cm, Collezione Città di Lugano, © D. Thalmann, Aarau, Switzerland. Sources and material analyses indicate that Amiet used an egg-and-oil tempera, known as «Lompeck’s tempera», for this work

Cuno Amiet, Self-Portrait with Wife, detail from the cheek of Anna Amiet. The paint, applied in many layers, was so thick and pastyy on application that the separate brushstrokes do not seem to cohere but to consist of an accumulation of fraying paint fragments

Cuno Amiet, Still Life with Red Cloth, 1913, oil on textile, 59 x 72.5 cm, Kunstmuseum Solothurn, © D. Thalmann, Aarau, Switzerland. The colour of the yellow petals was pigmented with strontium and cadmium yellow and and has now turned severely brown in places

Cuno Amiet, Still Life with Red Cloth, detail, in oblique light, with browning

Cuno Amiet, Still Life with Red Cloth, cross-section of a paint sample from an area that was originally yellow and is now brown. a) Observed in a light microscope (brightfield, crossed polarisation filters). The browning is only superficial; deeper down the colour is unchanged. b) The same sample, observed under UV-radiation (365 nm). The changed surface contains slighlty fluorescing components

Publication «Kunsttechnologische Forschungen zur Malerei von Cuno Amiet 1883–1914»

The project was supported by:

  • Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS), Bern
  • Sophie und Karl Binding Stiftung, Basel
  • Swiss Re, Zurich
  • and public and private collections (thanks to the loan of paintings)
  • a foundation who wishes to remain anonymous