The Boy in the Red Waistcoat

Painted around 1888/90 by Paul Cézanne. Bought by Bührle in 1948 after it was seized by the trader in looted art Gottlieb Reber.

The world-famous artwork The Boy in the Red Waistcoat by Paul Cézanne was the «pride and pivot»1 of Bührle’s collection. Accordingly, it functions today as the collection’s figurehead, not only in the exhibition space, but also on posters, postcards and the Internet. Indeed, one would like to pay tribute to Emil Georg Bührle, the generous patron to whom Zurich owes this exquisite collection. The collector’s favourite painting thus becomes the darling of the Zurich art world, a permanent fixture in the cityscape: a tribute that would have pleased the great man.

But who is this man to whom this city so humbly pays homage? How did he finance his collection, with which the Kunsthaus so fondly adorns itself? Emil Georg Bührle was a Nazi sympathiser, an authoritarian militarist, at best a war profiteer – but probably even a war criminal. At a young age, after the First World War, Bührle joined one of the reactionary German nationalist Freikorps that opposed the democracy of the Weimar Republic. A prominent Freikorps leader and murderer, Waldemar Pabst, would later reappear in Bührle’s closest private and professional circle in Zurich. There he was in the best company of other right-wing extremists: such as the active Nazi supporter Eugen Bircher and the frontist Emil Sonderegger. With the manufacture of anti-aircraft guns, which Bührle supplied exclusively to the Axis powers from 1940, Bührle became the richest man in Switzerland.2 He also profited from forced labour at home and abroad – including in concentration camps.3 Had Bührle not been protected by his Swiss citizenship, he would probably have been sentenced alongside the other Nazi war criminals at the Nuremberg trials.4

With blood money, Bührle thus amassed an enormous collection before, during and after the Second World War. For due to the persecution and extermination of Jewish people in Europe, art was available cheaply and on a massive scale. His collection was essentially created between 1936 and 1956. One part is looted art that Bührle had to return after the war and later bought again. Another part is looted art that is still being actively defended today against claims for restitution brought forward by the descendants of Nazi persecutees. The works bear witness to a perfidious calculation: selling weapons for war and persecution, buying up works of art from war and persecution. While other countries erected Holocaust memorials in the last 80 years, the Bührle Hall was inaugurated in the Kunsthaus in 1958. While other countries commemorate the victims of the Second World War, Switzerland cheers its profiteers. Welcome to the Kunsthaus Zürich.


1. Collection Emil Bührle.
2. Hug 2021, n. p.
3. Hafner 2016, n. p. and Keller 2021, p. 18–19.

4. Titel Thesen Temperamente 2022. The formulation above refers, among other things, to the statement of the Swiss historian Erich Keller.


Collection Emil Bührle, Paul Cézanne, The Boy in the Red Waistcoat (accessed on May 2nd 2023).

Collection Emil Bührle
Collection Emil Bührle, Audioguide Nr. 268 (accessed on May 2nd 2023).

Hafner 2016
Wolfgang Hafner, «Absolut meine eigene Conception», in: WOZ – Die Wochenzeitung, March 17th 2016 (accessed on May 2nd 2023).

Hug 2021
Ralph Hug, «Zürich vertuscht den wahren Bührle», in: Work – Die Zeitung der Gewerkschaft, December 17th 2021 (aaccessed on May 2nd 2023).

Keller 2021
Erich Keller, Das kontaminierte Museum. Das Kunsthaus Zürich und die Sammlung Bührle, Zürich 2021.

Titel Thesen Temperamente 2022
«Skandal am Kunsthaus Zürich. Die Sammlung Bührle», in: Titel Thesen Temperamente, February 6th 2022 (accessed on May 2nd 2023).