Bechtler family patriarch, Hans Bechtler (1904 – 1998) was a beloved patron and friend to many of the artists whose work he collected. Bestowed upon him for his 60th birthday in 1964 was a one-of-a-kind portfolio filled with artwork created specifically for Hans by several of these artists.
This extraordinary gift was conceived and compiled by Hans’s sister and niece. Months before Hans’s birthday the two reached out to a remarkable roster of modern artists with a request for them to create an artwork on a 9 x 12-inch sheet of paper, which the women supplied. Almost all who were asked submitted a gift. A total of 27 artworks were collected for what would be known as the “Birthday Book.” The book was placed in a presentation box where it remained for 40 years.
Fourteen of the 27 artworks are now part of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art collection. The other Birthday Book works are in the private collection of Hans’s daughter (and sister of museum patron Andreas Bechtler) Dany Bechtler Bucher in Switzerland.
The works in this exhibition represent some of the most important figures in 20th century modernism such as Alberto Giacometti, Mark Tobey, Barbara Hepworth and Marino Marini. While all works are on paper, a variety of media was used: watercolor, pencil, crayon, pastel, ink, gouache and collage. Each work is entirely in sync with the artist’s oeuvre at the time it was created. Some works are whimsical and personal (Hepworth), some subtle and complex (Kemeny), others gestural and immediate (Hartung and Tobey) and still others elegantly telegraphic (Giacometti).
The Birthday Book artworks that are not part of the Bechtler collection are shown in a series of images on a panel in the exhibition. As a group, these works provide a rare glimpse into the approaches that such a distinguished field of artists would take for the same commission, executed on the same paper, in honor of the same patron and all at the same moment.
In addition, the exhibition presents two other birthday gifts within the Bechtler family. One is a work by Sam Francis that was given by the artist to Hans in the mid 1960s. The other is a powerful sculpture by Raffael Benazzi which was given by Bessie to her husband, Hans, in the late 1970s.