Enjoying art is one of my preferred activities during a vacation, and Colmar is really the place to be for such delights. Although it’s a relatively small city it has a remarkable concentration of old churches and museums hosting beautiful pieces of art from the medieval period to the principal currents of art in the 20th century. We dedicated almost the full 8th day of our vacation to visiting the art places in Colmar, with one short jump to the city of St. Louis for visiting another art exhibition we heard about in Strasbourg and which seemed interesting.

Virgin of the Rose Bower - source superstock.com

The first stop was in the Dominican Church – Eglise des Dominicains. Once a cathedral the impressive church hosts one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance local master Martin Schongauer – The Virgin of the Rose Bower (la Vierge au Buisson de Roses), a work which despite its dimensions has an air of delicacy and intimacy. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the church, so I need to use a photo which I found on the Internet and I cannot expand more on the stained glass windows or on a series of paintings representing the Stations of the Cross belonging to a German artist at the end of the 19th century.

cloisters yard at Musee d'Unterlinden

We then spent a few hours in the most important museum in Colmar – Musee d’Unterlinden.. It was open in 1849 on a location which was a convent for five centuries, and some of the collections are actually hosted by the former cloisters rooms. The collections range from antiquities, medieval and Renaissance art, history and local crafts, up to 20th century paintings plus exhibitions of contemporary art. We had a pick of almost everything during our visit.

Holbein - Portrait de femme

Here are a few of the many splendid works that drew our attention. Portrait of a Woman by Holbein to start with.

Cranach - La crucifixion

A simple but so expressive composition of the Crucifixion by Cranach the Elder.

Martin Schongauer - St Michel

The local master Schongauer is an artist of choice in the museum. Here is a lytography representing St Michael …

Martin Schongauer - L'Annonciation

… and a fragment of a piece of altar imagining The Annunciation.


A special section of the museum in the former chapel of the convent is dedicated to the masterpiece of Matthias Grunewald at the beginning of the 16th century for the altar of the monastery at Issenheim. Restoration work is ongoing on parts of the altarpiece as well as on other works belonging to painters from the school of Martin Schongauer.

the altarpiece in the chappel

The chapel itself is a beautiful piece of architecture, extremely well lit in natural light, which is quite rare for such Gothic style enclosures. The altarpiece was brought here in 1793, probably after the closure of the monastery in Issenheim during the revolutionary period.

(video source pietro68bleu)

I found a youTube film that presents the polyptych (14 pieces of painting and a few sculptures).

le retable d'Issenheim - 2

Here are a couple of more photos of details. A temptation of Saint Antoine (patron of the monastery at Isenheim) brings up an imagery that reminds Bosch.

le retable d'Issenheim - 3

The painted wood sculptures complete and complement the painted panels in a masterful style that bridges between the medieval religious sculpture and the baroque compositions.

Joe Downing - Totem

An abrupt change of styles and period dictated by our order of visiting of the museum took us next to a temporary exhibition of an artist which I knew nothing before. The name is Joe Downing, and he was an American who lived and painted in France for a big part of his life. Discovered by Picasso after the second world war his work in different periods combines an abstract style with sophisticated composition and colors that reminded me Gustav Klimt. Above is one of the later works (he died in 2007) – a beautiful construction from multiple panels of wood recreating a totem from an unknown civilization venerating arts.

Victor Brauner - Hommage a Marcel Duchamps

It was not the last discovery in the modern art section of the museum. A Homage to Marcel Duchamps belonging to Romanian-born Jewish French painter Victor Brauner drew my attention with the integrated Jewish symbols.

Jeanne Coppel - Sans titre

The next discovery was a couple of collage works of another Jewish painter born in Romania in the town of Galatzi – Jeanne Coppel, also promoted by Picasso around the same period as Downing.

Picasso - Buste de femme assise

And then Picasso himself is present with a very typical Bust of a Sitting Woman.

Declaration des droits

One of the pieces on the corridors that I thought to be worth being captured in a photo is the declaration of human rights of the French Revolution which together with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States form until today the cornerstones of the democratic and human rights respecting countries and political regimes.

Michel Hertrich - Vues de Colmar 1874-1876

Then in the section of local artists and locally inspired works I found paintings made in the city 140 years ago during the German rule. As always it is interesting to notice the conservation of the core style and atmosphere of the city, and look for the differences and similitude.

Here are more images from the museum found on youTube:

(video source mccoy1975)

The Web site of the museum at http://www.musee-unterlinden.com/ includes a lot of interesting information.

espace Fernet-Branco

With a few hours left in the afternoon we decided to take the car and drive a few tens of kilometers to the city of Saint Louis (France, not Missouri). We had seen in Strasbourg in the window of a gallery a poster of an exhibition of the collection of Jean Planque at the Espace Fernet Branca. The title of the exhibition ‘From Degas to Picasso’ was promising.

Jean Planque was a minor artist but a major expert and art collector. Working as an advisor for rich collectors and galleries he earned and then gathered enough funds to allow him to form a collection that includes many works of important artists from impressionists until Picasso’s works in the 60s. Again, helas, photography was not allowed in the exhibition, but the Web page provides some information – http://www.museefernetbranca.fr/page000100c9.html

Découvrez La collection "Jean Planque" à l’Espace Fernet-Branca sur Culturebox !

video source culturebox.france3.fr

The video above gives some more information about the collection, the collector and the exhibition in Sain Louis.

We had ended our art day in Colmar and around. We had one last amusing experience in road orientation, when accidentally and before the GPS synchronized we lost our way and we entered … Switzerland, actually the city of Basel. Saint Louis could be considered a suburb of the much bigger Swiss city, it’s just that it’s located in France. The next day we will be back here and Basel will be our principal stop on the way to the French area of Switzerland.