Otto Wyler 1887 - 1965
Raphael Wyler, the father of Otto Wyler, came from a Jewish family from Endingen, one of two villages in Switzerland where Jews were allowed to live after the peace of Münster (1648), until they were granted freedom of residence in 1866. His mother, née Guggenheim, was a daughter of a respectable family from St. Gallen. Initially, the father owned a small shop in Mumpf, where both sons were born, Eugen in 1885 and Otto in 1887. In the nineties of the nineteenth century, the family moved to Aarau, to the Vordere Vorstadt 14. Also here, the parents operated a shop on the ground floor selling white goods, work cloths and other textiles, which was closed on Sabbath.
In the age of 12, Otto Wyler was diagnosed of having a brain tumor (1899). A young German specialist performed two successful surgeries in Basel, which, however, destroyed the "computing center" in Otto's brain. This was the reason (?) why he became a painter, since the physician recommended a profession "outdoors" (gardener, forester, decorative painter).
The art teacher of the "vocational school" where Otto continued his studies after the surgeries, Mr. Steimer, saw the drawing talent of Otto Wyler und recommended his parents to let their son become a painter. His talent was confirmed by the fact that he has been accepted to the workshop of Fernand Cormon at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris in the age of 18.
One year later (1906/1907), Otto Wyler traveled to Munich, where he worked with Heinrich Knirr (also a teacher of Paul Klee). In 1907 / 1908, Otto Wyler was again in Paris, this time in the workshop of Jacques-Emilie Blanche. This was the autumn of the big Cezanne exhibition in Salon d'Autome, which had a big impact on Otto Wyler.
In the summers, he mostly painted in Switzerland – Jura and Engadin. Together with former schoolmates, he founded the section Aargau of the GSMBA (association of Swiss painters, sculptors and architects).
In 1910, Otto Wyler asked his former schoolmate, Walter Jaeger, if his sister would pose for him as model for a Madonna. Then, Betty Jaeger was a student at the ETH in Zurich. The big Madonna picture could be seen in the new art gallery in Zurich in the same year. A positive review of the picture by Hans Trog was published in the Neue Züricher Zeitung (NZZ) on November 25th, 1910.
His first important success occurred in 1991, when the picture "The Guitar Player" was bought by the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne after it had been displayed in an international exhibition involving the GSMBA.
In the Berlin Secession, Otto Wyler showed winter pictures from Engadin and in the Glaspalast in Munich he showed the picture Maienzugbild, which later made its way to the auditorium of the schoolhouse in Zelgli, was displayed in Germans cinemas as slide presentation and reproduced in a newspaper. Thereby, the Maienzugbild painted in 1911 gained much publicity. The biggest success for the then 26-year-old painter was the award of a second gold medal to an Aare landscape at the 11th international art exhibition in Munich in 1913.
The outbreak of the first world war did not seem to have affected the life of Otto Wyler to the same extent as other artists in Europe, for whom the war marked a turning point in their life and work. In 1907, he had not been called up for the recruit school, it was enough for the responsible physician that Otto Wyler was not interested in serving in the army. This was not changed in 1914, and thus he had enough time to paint. However, it was much more difficult to travel abroad, so that the mountains, especially in the Engadin, became the subject of his paintings more frequently.
Betty Jaeger had completed her studies in 1913 and got a position in the district school in Menziken, where she taught natural sciences and mathematics. She lost her job when she married Otto in 1917.
After their marriage, Otto and Betty Wyler lived in Ftan from 1917 to 1924. There, Betty got a position at the private secondary school for girls, which she also lost when it became obvious that she was pregnant. Three children were born during this period (1918 Zimira / 1920 Beate / 1922 Oswald).
The two big Monte Forno pictures were painted in 1917. One of the pictures was displayed in Zurich in the big GSMBA exhibition in the summer. Following review of Dr. Carl Weichard (art correspondent of the newspaper in Bern) was published in the Frankfurter Zeitung: "The award for Swiss landscapes has to go to the beautiful picture "Monte Forno during the day" (Maloya) of Otto Wyler from Aarau."
Later, in the years 1921 and 1922, this picture was displayed in different museums in the USA, such as the Brooklyn Institute of Art and Science, the Art Institute of Chicago, the City Art Museum St. Louis etc.
In January 1922, Erwin Poeschel, who has written the big Giacometti monograph, published a longer article about Otto Wyler containing several reproductions in the "Westermann´s monthly journals".
In the beginning of 1924, the family moved to Aarau, where the fourth child (Lotti) was born. In the years between 1925 – 1934, Otto Wyler often painted in Southern France, and in 1931 and 1932, he took his entire family with him to Sanary during the winter.
Otto Wyler painted during two longer stays in Morocco (1934 / 1935), where the municipal administration of Marrakesh placed a workshop at his disposal. Later, these works were displayed very successfully in Aarau und Geneva.
The second world war made travels abroad impossible and Otto Wyler painted much in Losone (Tessin). After the war, he continued to travel – to Greece, Italy, France, Spain and in 1959 also to Israel.
At his 75th birthday (1962), 222 of his pictures were displayed in a big exhibition in the art gallery in Aargau. This exhibition was a great success.
6 months before his death, in the late summer of 1964, Otto Wyler painted the local Rhine landscape at the invitation of the municipality of Zurzach. Shortly thereafter, this landscape was changed forever by the erection of a water hydroelectric power plant. In an interview, the painter expressed skepticism in regard to this sacrifice of nature in favor of technology. He had seen the landscape as painter and grieved for the loss of the old pastures which were destroyed. He thought it valuable that this landscape survived at least in the picture, this means, he definitely saw his painting as a documentation of a state, as service for the memory of his homeland.
Otto Wyler painted until his death – he died in 1965 in the age of 78. His last picture is a "Forest in winter".
There have been several exhibitions of his works since his death – amongst others, in 1965 in the gallery 6 in Aarau, in 1987 in the city hall of the city of Aarau and in 2013 in Israel, where 40 pictures were displayed in the Ein Harod Art Museum.
Timeline: Link to timeline Otto Wyler (PDF)