In Basel is, they say, the oldest art museum in the world, the Kunstmuseum. It got the uncommon three stars in our Michelin Green Guide, so we hopped on the Sundial on church train. Michelin also said that they had so many art works in this museum that they couldn't display them all on their three floors. But Michelin didn't say that they were undergoing a two-year renovation project. The upper two floors were closed.
Fortunately for us, the Kunstmuseum kept the first floor open. The art they had on display was generally from the early part of the twentieth century: what we called modern art when we were young. It was really rather amazing that we saw a couple hundred paintings and sculptures, nearly all of which were great works by great artists. And we learned some things we didn't know: that Picasso and Leger both did cubism and that some of their cubist works are basically indistinguishable; that Giacometti did more than just his long spindly sculptures.
We found that the abstract art of Mondrian and Arp did not excite us as much as it did when we were younger. But there was a lot to enjoy. They had two wonderful surrealist works by Dali, Burning Giraffe and Perspective, and one by Niklaus Stoecklin, Hartmannsweilerkopf. We liked Miro's Composition 1925 and Bernoulli's tomb Leger's Mother and Child and The Mechanical Elements. We enjoyed some of Picasso's early work, including The Two Brothers, and Seated Harlequin. We encountered an artist we did not know, Lovis Corinth, and especially liked his Ecce Homo, a modern rendition of the arrest of Christ by the Romans with the Roman soldier looking like one of Mussolini's troops -- it was painted in 1925. We were stunned by the strength of color in Chagall's Fallen Angel and moved by The Merchant of Beasts. But what caught both our eyes most was a glorious Rousseau, The Muse Inspiring The Poet.
Returning to the train station we paused at the Munster, the great cathedral of Basel, expecting to be dazzled. The outside is richly sculpted with heads of monsters and saints and beasts, and there are numerous full-length statues. Its cloisters contain tombs of important citizens, including Jakob Bernoulli, who taught at the University of Basel.
The Munster overlooks the Rhine from a hilltop, and people were gathered in the rear cloisters to enjoy the view from a grassy courtyard. One group had Basel and the Rhine set up a folding table with refreshments, and were busily toasting one another and chatting. We couldn't figure out the reason for the gathering; we had seen another group in a park doing the same. There were folding chairs set out in the Munster Platz, and a few people were milling about, although they could have been just tourists. So possibly there was some special event coming up at the church, although we'd prefer to think that people in Basel just enjoy setting up a table and sipping wine and talking in a park on a delightful weekday morning in the fall.
Looking over the ramparts to the river, we watched yet another kind of ferryboat; attached to a cable by a flag-decorated line, it drifted across the river, powered only by the river current, and steered unobstrusively by the ferryman in the back cabin. Cable ferry
In contrast to the lovely Jesuit church in Luzern, the interior of the Basel Munster seemed spare and cold, with tall and narrow Gothic stone arches and clear windows except for a blaze of stained glass. Later we realized that we had seen the results of the Reformation, when Zwingli and his colleagues caused all of the church art to be removed and much of it destroyed.
The train ride from Zurich to Basel was as comfortable as the one from Zurich to Luzern, but the scenery was less interesting: numerous commercial districts and two long tunnels. When we returned to the hotel, Bob worked on our travel reports while Elsa took the opportunity for another short walk. She saw the Grossmunster, at the edge of the Linnat River, with its splendid turrets and statues. Its twin towers dominate the skyline and are used on occasional Basel street tourist posters. You can climb the tower if you wish. She didn't wish. Again, the interior was relatively plain, although the height of the nave is awe-inspiring, and the stained glass windows by Augusto Giacometti (not his cousin Alberto the sculptor.)
One of Zurich's signature attractions is the set of stained glass windows by Chagall in the Fraumunster, a somewhat smaller church across the river. The three long narrow chapel windows contain the same colors and some of the designs we had seen in his Basel paintings, including a happy green Virgin Mary and Child. The more circular side window exhibits Chagall's distinctive style, with a wash of bright, soft colors.
We'll have one more day in Zurich before our flight back to the U.S. in mid-December. There will be plenty of choices of things to see and do. There always are, in Zurich.