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Clara Porges

January 22 - April 03, 2021
Rämistrasse 3, Zürich

In her paintings and watercolors Clara Porges (1879, Berlin – 1963, Samedan) explored the exceptional lighting atmosphere of the Engadine Mountains and succeeded in capturing the mystical presence of the rugged peaks in uniquely sensitive ways. She spent many years of her life in Sils-Maria, a place that served as a multifaceted source of inspiration for many artists and intellectuals of her time. It was here that Porges produced most of her oeuvre and united late Impressionist, Expressionist, and Symbolist tendencies to develop her characteristic style of painting.


Porges attended the Städtische Kunstschule (The City Art School) of Berlin, which was at the time under the leadership of Max Liebermann. Later, she traveled to Italy and Vienna, where she met her future husband, the Viennese violinist Friedrich Walter Porges. The couple circulated in the society of renowned art groups and around 1910, they founded the Atelier Hollerhaus in Irschenhausen, a favorite meeting spot for the Munich artworld.

“Our attention drawn to the Engadine while reading the letters of Friedrich Nietzsche and his Zarathustra, we sought out Sils-Maria in June of 1911. This was a crucial moment in our lives; there I found my most essential field of work and felt profoundly connected to the landscape,” wrote Porges around 1938. In this intellectually and spiritually inspiring environment, Porges cultivated a language of her own, distinguished by an unusual combination of Symbolism and mountainscape. Sharp, dark contours outline the rock formations, giving them a mighty, almost sacred appearance. Following the tenets of late impressionism, she largely dispensed with the color black to achieve through colorist painting an undiminished radiant light in her mountain views. In one work Porges painted the mountains as a nearly flaming landscape (Sonnenuntergang am Silsersee in Richtung Maloja / Sunset at Lake Sils, Looking Toward Maloja, undated), in another one as a crystalline formation jutting up out of the landscape (Umgebung von Soglio mit Sciora Gruppe / Area Around Soglio, with the Sciora Group, 1914).

Ausstellungsansicht Porges

In her attempt to depict the mountains symbolistically, Porges dared to anthropomorphize the landscape entirely, a good example of which can be seen in her work Nymphen (Nymphs, undated). The two feminine bodies, arranged in a triangular formation, blend into the alpine landscape surrounding them, while at the same time they themselves form a mountain. They become an allegorical translation of nature and thus a symbol of sublimity.

Despite the restrictive conditions under which female artists worked at the time, Clara Porges developed innovative approaches to reinterpreting nature. In the late 1930s she reached the apex of her career and completed the monumental painting Die apokalyptischen Reiter (The Apocalyptic Riders, before 1938), which she herself described as a major artwork. The confrontation with death and suffering, influenced by the loss of her husband in 1932 and the aggravating situation in her home country, found ecstatic culmination in this work. The dynamism of the approaching riders, the tense triangular composition, and the dramatic lighting result in a powerful translation of the biblical scene.

From the early years of her career, Clara Porges’ work was represented in exhibitions at institutions such as the Kunsthaus Zurich (1920, 1922), the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (1922), the Kunsthalle Bern (1928), and the Musée des Beaux Arts Lausanne (1946). Her works can be found in the Collection of the Canton of Bern and the Stiftung Capauliana Chur.

Ausstellungsansicht Porges
About artist
Clara Porges
Berlin, 1879 — 1963

Clara Porges (1879, Berlin – 1963, Samedan) attended the municipal art school and the Fehr Academy in Berlin from 1896 to 1900. Study trips took her to Italy, Vienna, and on the trail of Nietzsche, to the Engadine where she created her magnum opus.
Porges' artworks were shown in numerous exhibitions in London, Vienna, Munich, Leipzig, Dresden, Freiburg im Breisgau, Stuttgart, Bern, and Zurich from 1912 through the early 1950s. Nevertheless, the artist was almost forgotten in the second half of the 20th century. It was not until 1985, with the inclusion of her works in the exhibition Das Oberengadin in der Malerei at the Segantini Museum in St. Moritz, that her artistic talents were once again recognized; her work anew, considered among a larger context of artists who set themselves apart with the Engadine.