A n avid collector, traveller and patron of the arts, Asbjorn Lunde was one of the greatest collectors of 19th-century Norwegian and Swiss paintings. He was born in Staten Island to Norwegian parents, graduated from Columbia University and went on to set up his own successful law firm in Manhattan. He collected from a young age, developing his own taste by visiting museums, auction houses and galleries. In 1968, he purchased his first two Norwegian paintings: Scene from the Norwegian Saga Era (1859) by Knud Baade and Fisherman by Derwent Water (1837) by Thomas Fearnley, which would eventually form the core of a much bigger collection, composed of several hundred objects including paintings, sculptures, prints and Indian miniatures.
Given the natural affinities between Norwegian and Swiss landscape paintings, it was only natural for Lunde to go on to develop an appreciation for the latter. In 1994 he purchased his first work by the celebrated Swiss landscape artist, Alexandre Calame, building up what has probably been the largest collection of works by the artist outside Switzerland. Ten years later came the first public exhibitions of the works from the collection. These included the landmark show, Alpine Views: Alexandre Calame and the Swiss Landscape, held in 2006 at the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which featured 53 paintings. Four of those extraordinary works will be offered in Zurich on 25 June, led by Calame’s powerful masterpiece, Torrent de montagne par orage, 1850. The dramatic work depicts Switzerland’s longest river, the Aare, carving its way through the Haslital valley in the Bernese Oberland. Such paintings made a significant contribution to the imagery of the Alps which became predominant in 19th-century Europe.
Also featured in the 2006 exhibition and among the highlights of the upcoming Zurich sale this month are works by François Diday, under whom Alexandre Calame studied from the age of 19 onwards. Beautifully finished, Diday’s large-scale work, The Gelmerhorn, 1857 is a quintessential Romantic landscape. Depicting the Gelmerhorn mountain dramatically lit by golden morning light, the painting contrasts this majestic backdrop with three goats grazing undisturbed beside some fir trees, reminiscent of the work of Caspar David Friedrich.
The works thoughtfully assembled by Asbjorn Lunde, by artists such as Calame, Diday and Johann Gottfried Steffan, played a key part in the development of European Romanticism. Like their Norwegian counterparts, these artists focused on wild, sublime natural landscapes which contributed not only to the renown of Switzerland’s natural beauty, but also crucially in the formation of the country’s national identity.
Throughout his long life, Asbjorn Lunde donated works to multiple museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC and the Newark Museum, New Jersey. Following an exhibition in 2011 of more than 50 works from his collection at the National Gallery in London, in 2016 Lunde donated two spectacular paintings to the museum: At Handeck (circa 1860) by Calame and The Lower Falls of the Labrofoss (1827) by Johan Christian Dahl.