Assembled with passion and enjoyed over decades as an integral part of their family home, the collection of Marina and Willy Staehelin-Peyer was inspired by a true appreciation of the ‘modern’ in art. The couple amassed a group of works that ranged from Modern British artists such as Henry Moore and Kenneth Armitage to leading members of the French avant-garde including Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. Housed in the setting of the beautiful house designed by Marcel Breuer, these works were deeply loved and came to be, as Marina once said, ‘loyal friends’ to her and her husband.
In November 1997 a large portion of their collection was sold at Sotheby’s New York. On that occasion Marina wrote the following text, offering an insight into the beginnings of their remarkable collection and the passion with which they supported some of the leading artists of the twentieth century including Henry Moore, who became a close friend of the couple:
Photograph by Reto Pedrini
The origins of this collection go back over two generations, to the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1900 my grandparents escaped their patrician, narrow townhouse with gloomy paintings of their ancestors on the walls. They settled in the country on the border of the Rhine River in a house built for them that they called Rheinbühl. The painter Chiesa came from Tessin to visit this house each summer to paint the portraits of their thirteen grandchildren. In the garden of Rheinbühl, my family placed a sculpture by the Swiss artist Hubacher which we all greatly appreciated. To these my grandparents added works by the Swiss painters Hodler, de Meuron, Robert and others, all of which I used to admire during my long strolls through the spacious house.
Shortly after we married, Willy and I visited galleries and museums, mainly in Switzerland because of the war. We bought works by Erni and Augusto Giacometti but it was only through the architect Breuer that we discovered Henry Moore. In 1955, we met Breuer as we had decided to build a house in the Bauhaus style and he agreed to design the plans for us. During a visit to his home in 1956, I mentioned that we had seen an exhibition of Henry Moore in Winterthur and that we had liked his work very much. To our surprise, Breuer told us that Moore was a friend of his and that we should visit him on our way back to Switzerland. We met Henry and his charming wife Irina in Much Hadham and right from the beginning the conversation was light and they welcomed us like old friends. Henry gave me a guided tour through the extensive gardens and fields with sheep where all his sculptures were spread. His favorite things were sheep and sculpture. After each visit to Henry the number of sculptures in our own garden increased, six large sculptures on the lawn, seven medium-sized ones – of bronze, marble and stone – in the house, and seven working models. He himself supervised the positioning of the sculptures in our garden and none of them have changed their place since. His strong feeling for his work was always apparent and when he was once staying with us for a weekend, he told me "You may wonder what to do with me all weekend, but don't worry, I will be looking at my sculptures." And that is what he did, with a happy smile on his face.
Now, almost twenty years later, Sotheby’s is privileged to be offering the following three works from the collection of Marina and Willy Staehelin-Peyer. Further works from the collection will be offered in the Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale, to be held in London on 4th February 2016 and the Contemporary Art Day Sale, to be held in London on 11th February 2016.