Video: Destinations for art lovers
La Gruyère – a treasure trove of masterpieces
The collections of the Association des Musées en Gruyère are an art lover’s dream. The rather unconventional settings in which some of these works are displayed, whether in the intimate confines of a chapel or in the heart of an imposing castle, serve only to magnify their beauty. The sinuous curves of a stained glass window at the Vitronmusée in Romont, the remarkable talent of local artists showcased at the Musée de Charmey, Buddhist art at the Tibet Museum, or Hans Ruedi Giger’s unsettling and breathtaking biomechanical figures… La Gruyère is a microcosm of the eclectic world of art.
Vitromusée Romont – a window on glass art
In the south of the canton of Fribourg, art finds expression in the half light of day which is delicately captured in the stained glass of the Vitromusée Romont. Tiny rods of skilfully moulded lead lock in the luminescent rays in works which are unspoiled by the passage of time. Glass art offers us a window into the far and near reaches of history, tempting us to lean over the guardrails to bathe our faces in the gleaming light of the past, and the present. Resettled from their original religious and secular homes, the works in the museum collection keep alive the memory of the countless sunrises that have added to their aesthetic charm.
In addition to many examples of stained glass ranging from 5th century archaeological fragments to contemporary works, the Vitromusée Romont is home to one of the largest collections of reverse paintings on glass. The 300 or so works on public display take visitors on a journey through time, conjuring up images of the drawing rooms of emperors and generations of wealthy connoisseurs of this exquisite art form. Glass is a fragile and noble substance which requires a deft and experienced hand to tame its capricious nature, but whose brilliance is instantly evident.
HR Giger Museum – Where poetry and science fiction meet
Born in Chur in 1940, the painter, sculptor and designer Hans Ruedi Giger is considered a master of fantastic realism. His unmistakeable style straddles the world of poetry and science fiction. His works exist in a parallel universe where the darkest recesses of the human psyche come to life in the form of hybrid creatures of exquisite but deeply disturbing beauty. The sepulchral lighting of the museum accentuates the repulsive, disconcertingly attractive contours of our deepest fears made flesh.
HR Giger adroitly appropriates an unsettling aesthetic that blurs the boundaries between nightmare and fantasy and unites them in a macabre and beguiling dance. Fraught with tension and ridden with the organic violence that lies dormant in the human mind, Giger’s works plunge the viewer into an unnerving yet strangely familiar universe.
The HR Giger Museum, which opened in 1998 in the heart of medieval Gruyères, is home to the largest collection of the artist’s work, including airbrush paintings, sculptures, furniture and a plethora of other decorative objects. Together, they document how the output of this singular artist evolved over time. One of the main attractions are his iconic creations that feature heavily in Ridley Scott’s cult classic Alien. The otherworldly experience continues in the bar next door. It is the last major work completed by the artist before his death and is an integral part of the exhibition. Here, visitors are drawn ever deeper into Giger’s extraterrestrial, stygian universe. It is the stuff of deliciously dark nightmares.
Tibet Museum – A bridge between two worlds
The Tibet Museum, in the heart of the medieval town of Gruyères, boasts one of the largest collections of Buddhist art in the world. The paintings, sculptures and other religious artefacts, the earliest of which date from the first century, are beautifully displayed in the basement of the Chapel of Saint Joseph. Under the benevolent watch of the Christian saints that populate the choir’s stained glass windows of the choir, the collection not only documents the history of Buddhist art but also unites two worlds through their shared belief in a universe that transcends the material world.
Through the delicate plumes of burning incense, visitors might discern St Francis of Assisi and Milarepa exchanging a knowing glance. As day hesitantly breaks through the windows, the crown on the glass sculpture of Jesus Christ envelopes the tranquil bodhisattvas in a halo of light. This inner sanctum, at the crossroads between the Occident and the Levant, prompts visitors to question what they though they knew and believed, setting them on a more enlightened path.
To stay in the artistic universe, the Fer de lance shop welcomes you in the old town of Gruyères where you will discover a wide range of crafts and mineralogy coming directly from the Himalayan mountains.
Château de Gruyères and the noble spirit of adventure
Only a few kilometres separate the region’s capital Bulle and the Château de Gruyères. A few kilometres away from the region’s capital stands the Château de Gruyère. Built in the 13th century on the hill overlooking the charming medieval town of the same name, the castle was the seat of one of the region’s most powerful noble families, the Counts of Gruyère, for nearly 500 years. The last member of the family to reside there, Count Michel was forced to surrender his ancestral home in 1554 to settle the substantial debts he owed the cities of Bern and Fribourg.
Subsequently, the Château became the home of a succession of bailiffs and prefects appointed by the Fribourg administration to govern the region. In 1848, a wealthy family from Geneva purchased the medieval fortress and transformed it into a sanctuary for artists. Painters, sculptors, musicians and writers flocked to the Château de Gruyères in search of inspiration in these exhilarating and august surroundings. The beauty and timeless quality of the setting did indeed spark their creative imagination and many of these art works still adorn the castle’s walls and rooms today.
Memories of its colourful history are etched into the stone of the Château de Gruyères. From medieval treasures to paintings by Camille Corot not to mention the sumptuous Ancien Régime decor, the castle provides a visual account of the events which have shaped the landscape of La Gruyère over time. The castle’s collections, tucked safely behind its centuries-old walls, document an enthralling and multifaceted history which has more to tell than classic tales of knights in shining armour.
Musée de Charmey – a showcase of local talent
With its glimpse into the life of Valsainte Charterhouse, the Musée de Charmey offers visitors a seamless transition from Buddhism to Christianity.
Valsainte, the only working Charterhouse monastery in Switzerland, has long been closed to the public so that its community of monks can practise their faith in peace, solitude and silence. Only a few hours walk from the village of Charmey but far, far removed from contemporary life, the monastery is a jealous guardian of its secrets.
The permanent exhibition at the Musée de Charmey offers a tiny peak into this clandestine world.
Housed in the former Platzhaus in the village of Jaun (17th century), the Musée de Charmey is an important repository of regional history and heritage. Its temporary exhibitions offer a contemporary take on the alpine economy and showcase the work of local applied artists who principally use natural materials like wood, paper and soil.
It hosts the International Paper Triennial founded in 1993 in partnership with local artist Viviane Fontaine. This exhibition-competition that is open to all artists who use this rich and protean material as the primary medium for their works. Paper art is a fully-fledged part of the contemporary art scene and provides applied artists the world over with a unique and quirky medium of expression.