Natural. Detailed. Zurich.
Rudolf Koller was famous for his true to nature animal and landscape paintings. It has been said of him that he was “Zurich’s most characteristic artist” and that he was the “Artist of the Swiss national animal”, the cow.
Koller in the Hotel Adler and in Zurichrich
When Rudolf was two years old, his father, a butcher and publican, took over the “Schwarzen Adler” (Black Eagle) hotel. Since mainly waggoners and cattle dealers stayed at the hotel, Rudolf saw horses and cows on a daily basis. He painted his impressions on the slates, walls and cupboard doors of the hotel.
The family who own the Adler bought many works from Koller and now make them exclusively accessible to hotel guests. These include the paintings “Rider and Farmer’s Wife at the Lake”, “Portrait of Mother”, “Cows in the Meadow”, “Herds of Cows and Sheep at the Edge of the Forest” and “Self-Portrait at 16 Years”, as well as a copy of the “Gotthard Post”.
Koller felt at home in Zurich, as his writings testify. He is buried next to his friend and author Gottfried Keller, at the Zurich Cemetery, Sihlfeld.
Training as an artist
Like the author Gottfried Keller, Rudolf Koller attended the vocational school. Neither of the two shone, rather, both wanted to become painters – Rudolf after just his first drawing lesson. It was his drawing teacher who persuaded Rudolf’s father to allow him to train as a painter.
In order to develop his studies of animals, Rudolf Koller travelled, amongst other places, to Stuttgart, where he painted the royal stables of Arab stud horses, and to the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf. In Brussels he studied the animal painters of the Baroque period, in Paris he devoted his attention to the really great painters in the Louvre. His travels also took him to Antwerp, Munich and the Walensee in Switzerland.
Koller’s most famous work: The Gotthard Post
It took the horse-drawn mail coach a good 32 hours to complete the journey from Lucerne to Milan. Following the construction of the rail tunnel, the Gotthard railway reduced this travelling time to 19 hours, from 1882 onwards. This was thanks to the Gotthard Pass of Alfred Escher, Managing President of the North East Railway, who significantly influenced the structures for rail travel, research and commerce in Zurich.
Rudolf Koller was given the commission to paint a retirement gift from the North East Railway for Escher. Inspired by the winding Tremola bends, Koller composed the dramatic scene of of the rapidly-travelling coach and the slow-moving cowherd with the astonished calf. He captured the contrast between technology and nature in his painting.
The Gotthard Post became an icon of the then emerging federal state. As one of the most popular works of Swiss art, you can admire the original from 1873 at the Zurich Art Gallery, only 9 minutes’ walk from the Hotel Adler.
Stand-up bar for dogs in Niederdorf
On the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the death of Rudolf Koller, the Hotel Adler fitted a stand-up bar for dogs, consisting of cast-iron troughs, to the outer wall of the house. Since in addition to horses and cows, Koller also painted the straying dogs of Niederdorf.
Sophisticated technology means that the water is renewed every 30 minutes. So thanks to the dog drinking fountain of the Hotel Adler, you can also invite your dog for a drink in Niederdorf.
Homage in the Rosenhof Passage
The roofed-over passage from the Rosengasse in the Rosenhof has been beautified by Heinz Blum with views of Zurich, by lovingly painting the left and right banks of the Limmat on the the walls. This means that in the Rosenhof Passage you can enjoy a new perspective on the sights of the old city, as if from the Limmat river – almost like a boat trip and without getting wet from the rain. This homage to Rudolf Koller is sponsored by the family who own the Adler Hotel.
Koller and the Cows
From the exhibition catalogue of the Zurich Art Museum:
For the Swiss in the young, democratic federal state, the cow signified “home” – a peaceful home, untroubled by the noise of the outside world. The international world of experts in 1857 appeared to be impressed by Koller’s accuracy of detail, however they also regarded the subject as an expression of the stay-at-home Swiss cowherd. Koller studied the Swiss nationality so accurately and showed what characterised the Swiss, apart from cheese, chocolate and watches: the affectionate, faithful, courageous, patient, warm-hearted, harmonious cow!