Hyper-realist Swiss artist Franz Gertsch dies at 92

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A man looks at "Patty Smith", an acrylic work on cotton by Swiss artist Franz Gertsch at the Correr Museum during the 5Oth Biennale of Art in Venice, 14 June 2003. Credit line: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP / Profimedia

Swiss hyper-realist painter and graphic artist Franz Gertsch, famed inter alia for his large format pictures of US rock singer Patti Smith, has died aged 92, the museum that bears his name said Thursday.

“On 21.12.2022, our eponymous artist Franz Gertsch died peacefully at the advanced age of 92,” the museum said in a statement on its website.

Gertsch, born in Bern canton on March 8, 1930, initially came to prominence with his tableaux of children playing at the beach after travelling to the Camargue in southern France for a Sinti and Roma festival in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.

His late 1970s series of work on rock icon Smith cemented his place in contemporary artistic consciousness after he had achieved an international breakthrough with his work “Medici” at the 1972 documenta 5 contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany.

In the mid-1980s he stopped painting for a time and devoted himself to large-scale woodcuts inspired by nature.

Following a solo show in 1999 at the Venice Biennale, the Museum Franz Gertsch opened in Burgdorf, Switzerland.

Gertsch based his paintings on photographs projected onto canvas, capturing life in portraiture, often in monochrome.

In 2017, the year the Jenisch museum in Vevey devoted an exhibition to his work, Gertsch saw his Luciano II painting fetch more than $3 million in London.

At the time, Sotheby’s saluted “an artist who updated the virtuosic technical skill of the Old Masters and applied it to a bohemian contemporary context of hazy beauty and flash-bulb light effects.”

In 2015, Gertsch allowed Swiss TV to film him as he created a woodcut.

“Thought I am a very nervous and impatient person — I find it hard to be patient — once I have a gouge or a brush in my hand a stillness comes over me,” he told the broadcaster as he worked. ©AFP

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