Research projects

Hans Emmenegger’s «Maltechnik-Notizbuch» (1901–1905)

Led by
Karoline Beltinger
Philipp Hitz (until 29.2.2020), Stefan Schreier, Nadim C. Scherrer, Carolina Zanchet Guerra (until 31.10.2020)
Bern University of the Arts HKB; Natural Sciences Laboratory of the Conservation and Restoration Department; Heidelberg University Library
«Kunstmaterial», vol. 6

Project description

This research project is founded on a notebook kept by the Central Swiss painter Hans Emmenegger (1866–1940) during the first quarter of the 20th century, where he systematically recorded information about his painting techniques. It focuses in particular on the 150 pages where, between February 1901 and June 1905, the artist described the often protracted genesis of his paintings, the artistic and technical factors associated with this process and the successful (or unsuccessful) application of techniques. On the last page he compiled a short list of his painting materials: commercially purchased products from known and unknown manufacturers, such as pre-primed canvas, tubes of paint (oil and tempera), various media, dryers, fixatives and varnishes.
Emmenegger’s lists and journal-like entries are extremely informative, not only with regard to his own output, but also for the broader context of painting technique in the early 20th century. The project researchers will subject his notes to scholarly evaluation. At the same time, selected works by the artist in the period from 1901 to 1905 will be examined with the aid of imaging techniques and material analysis, and this data will be correlated with the corresponding notebook entries.
The sequence of illustrations below grants an impression of the research.

The little notebook kept by Hans Emmenegger, the subject of this research project by SIK-ISEA in the field of art technology, is currently held in the ZHB manuscript archives in Lucerne.

This page from the notebook reveals that the artist worked from 12 to 14 February 1902 on the underdrawing for his painting Solitude (here given the number “37”) and that the following day he started work on the underpainting. Solitude was finished in March.

Hans Emmenegger, Solitude, 1902–1904, oil on canvas, 96.5 x 130 cm, Kunstmuseum Solothurn, photo: SIK-ISEA, Zurich (Philipp Hitz). Emmenegger painted Solitude in his studio after an open-air study made the previous autumn on Lake Garda.

During the research project by SIK-ISEA the structure and composition of the paint layer in Solitude – like the paint layers in other selected works – will be examined using tiny samples of material and compared with Emmenegger’s notes.

After exhibiting Solitude in Paris in summer 1902, the artist reworked it for the first time in December 1902. These belated alterations, as well as subsequent reworkings, were likewise recorded in his notebook.

“Shadow widened on the middle cypress top left,” commented Emmenegger in December 1902, the first time he reworked Solitude. Infrared reflectography (IRR) reveals the earlier, narrower shadow. Today it is wider.

The x-ray shows the clouds added by the artist in December 1902 but then covered up again in February 1904 during the final rework.

The findings will be published in volume 6 of the series KUNSTmaterial and online. The notebook itself will be published online; to produce this digital edition, a collaborative project has been set up with, the specialist information service for researchers provided by our partner libraries UB Heidelberg and SLUB Dresden, see

This project was supported by:

  • Cultural Promotion Canton Lucerne
  • Landis & Gyr Stiftung, Zug
  • Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS), Bern
  • Swiss Re, Zurich
  • Public and private collections by loaning works and H. Schmincke & Co., Erkrath, for the reference colour swatches