Willy Guggenheim

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Willy Guggenheim (born March 16, 1900 in Zurich ; † October 30, 1977 in Bondo GR ), alias Varlin , was a Swiss painter . Varlin was close friends with Hugo Loetscher and Friedrich Dürrenmatt , whom he also painted.


Varlin's work "The Salvation Army" (1964) in Friedrich Dürrenmatt's study in Neuchâtel; he is sitting on the sofa on the right, next to him Eugène Ionesco

Willy Guggenheim grew up in an assimilated Jewish family. His father Hermann Guggenheim was a lithographer and founder of a postcard publisher. His father died when he was 12 years old, his older sister two months earlier. He moved to St. Gallen , where he attended the canton school and trade school and did a year and a half apprenticeship at the Seitz lithography institute . He came into contact with the Senefelder stones, which Édouard Manet , Honoré Daumier , Paul Gavarni and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec also used. He got to know lithography as strenuous and tedious work and vowed never to do a lithograph again; an oath he kept with a few exceptions.

In 1921 Guggenheim went to Berlin and was a student at the State School of Applied Arts . Paris followed in 1923, where he stayed for eleven years. There he attended the Académie Lhote and the Académie Julian .

When his mother lost her fortune, he came to the realization "that art is breadless to have to earn something". So he joined the global company Risacher at Faubourg Montmartre, from which he had to leave again. He had allegedly been told that he was not even able to sharpen a pencil. Guggenheim then made drawings for humorous newspapers, which had to be less beautiful than obscene and were exhibited in the “Salon des Humoristes”. He rented a studio on Rue de Vanves. His sponsor Leopold Zborowski said that the name Guggenheim, “the name of American art magnates and Paris racing team owners, will not be successful”. He suggested Varlin as a stage name, after Eugène Varlin , a French revolutionary and anarchist.

Zborowski rented him a studio in the La Ruche artists' pavilion , where Alexander Archipenko , Chaim Soutine , Marc Chagall and Fernand Léger had worked. Varlin lived in Cros-de-Cagnes in southern France for a year . His exhibition at Galerie Sloden, Faubourg St-Honoré, was a resounding success. Zborowski died in 1932. In 1935 Varlin traveled back to Switzerland with his mother and sister, lived for 35 years in a three-room apartment in Wollishofer , which also served him as a studio for two years.

Varlin's grave in the
Bondo GR cemetery

In a demolished house he lived in a rented studio with painter Leo Leuppi , a Dane named Olsen, Gusti Vogt, the sculptor Louis Conne , the sculptors Hans Hippele and Meinrad Marti, who died early. Thanks to the efforts of the then art pope Righini, Varlin still received the requested federal grant, which he had not received at first (Varlin had sent in a "nude" from behind.) After the house was demolished, Varlin rented another studio in a farm room, led a time long a life as a loafer, was objectors . As a result of a trip to Venice, Varlin - according to his own account - became an alcoholic due to the high amount of water . It was not until he was 60, after many exhibitions in other museums, that he was allowed to exhibit at his local Kunsthaus in Zurich . Varlin died in 1977 in Bondo im Bergell and is buried there.


  • 1931: The Porte Guillaume in Chartres
  • 1936–1945: Restaurant on Lake Geneva
  • around 1940: Eye Clinic in Zurich
  • 1943: Ma mère
  • around 1944: Clochard de Paris
  • 1951: Portrait of Rüedi Gasser , oil on cardboard, 107 × 80 cm, Museo Cantonale d'Arte , Lugano
  • 1955: Albert Bridge with Thames
  • 1960: Banco di Roma
  • 1967: Antonia with Patrizia , oil on canvas, 157.2 × 120.5 cm, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Lugano
  • around 1970: Zita
  • 1970–1971: The bed 5
  • around 1972: The actor Ernst Schröder on the bed
  • 1973: Erna , oil and charcoal on canvas, 215.5 × 170 cm, Museo Cantonale d'Arte, Lugano
  • around 1974: Winter in Bondo
  • 1974: The Apostle of Peace Max Daetwyler
  • 1975: self-portrait
  • 1975–1976: The people of my village


  • Documentary Varlin . Directed by Friedrich Kappeler , produced by Alfi Sinniger, Catpics; Camera Pio Corradi ; 80 min. Switzerland 2000; DVD: Varlin Archive


  • Center Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel (Ed.): Varlin-Dürrenmatt Horizontal . Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2005.
  • Varlin a Bondo ; a cura di Mathias Picenoni, Patrizia Guggenheim e Vincenzo Todisco , Quaderni grigionitaliani, Fasciolo speciale Edizione della Pro Grigioni Italiano , Coira, December 2000.
  • Varlin. Catalog raisonné of the pictures 2 vol. Ed .: Swiss Institute for Art Research; Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2000 (Vol. 1: Life and Work).
  • "If I could write poetry". Edited by Patrizia Guggenheim & Tobias Eichelberg; Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 1998.
  • Letters and writings. Ed. Franca Guggenheim & Peter Keckeis; Verlag NZZ , Zurich, 1989.
  • "How he wrote and drew" Ed. Hugo Loetscher; GS-Verlag, Zurich 1983.
  • Varlin. Texts by Dürrenmatt, Max Frisch , Jürg Federspiel , Manuel Gasser , Loetscher , Paul Nizon , Giovanni Testori, Ludmila Vachtova and himself; Scheidegger, Zurich 1978.
  • Varlin. The painter and his work, Ed. Loetscher. Texts: Manuel Gasser, Dürrenmatt , Max Frisch , Loetscher, Paul Nizon and himself; Arche, Zurich 1969.
  • Varlin and the 7th decade. Special issue: Du (magazine) March 1970. Conzett & Huber, Zurich 1970. Photos by Henri Cartier-Bresson , Franco Cianetti, René Groebli, among others .
  • Paola Tedeschi-Pellanda: Varlin. In: Historical Lexicon of Switzerland . April 24, 2012 , accessed April 1, 2020 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Varlin on himself