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Chapter 1: Paul Klee, Victor Surbek, Marguerite Frey-Surbek

The first chapter of Home Stories starts with two works. The first, Künstlicher Fels [Artificial rock] by Paul Klee, is probably one of the most important works in the collection. The second is Victor Surbek’s Bergbach [Mountain stream]. This chapter explains how these two artists are connected. 

The artist couple Victor Surbek and Marguerite Frey-Surbek had a special relationship with the Kunstmuseum Thun. Victor Surbek exhibited several times in Thun and was invited to a Fokusschau [focus show] at the 1958/59 Christmas exhibition. In the spring of 1963, for the first time he displayed his drawings from the previous four decades in a comprehensive exhibition of 163 sheets. In the catalogue, the then curator of the art collection, Paul Leonhard Ganz, stated that “Surbek’s drawn work itself is an astonishing phenomenon”.

On 25 September 1972, the two artists signed an agreement for the benefit of the city of Thun’s art collection. It included the following legacy: a group of at least three works by each artist, in addition to the collection of works by other artists, were to go to the Kunstmuseum Thun after their death. The first part of the donation – three pictures by Victor Surbek, who died in 1975, and three by Marguerite Frey-Surbek – was received by the Kunstmuseum in 1977. The remaining 102 works of art were transferred in 1981, the year of Marguerite Frey-Surbek’s death.


One of today’s most well-known works came into the collection via this legacy: Paul Klee’s “Künstlicher Fels” (1927). A further eight drawings and graphic works by Klee joined the collection, and to this day, they form the Kunstmuseum Thun’s entire holding of Klee’s works.

The artist couple had a long association with Klee, which lasted until his death. As one of his first students, Frey-Surbek was particularly close to him. Beginning in 1904, Klee gave her private lessons for two years. Every two weeks he would visit her in her garret in Bern and teach her how to paint and etch. In 1906, Klee saw works by his pupil at an exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Bern and commented: “She is learning to paint, and with me! It’s outrageous because I can’t do it. But I understand a lot of it!!!”

That same year he advised her: “You have to go to Paris”. Marguerite Frey, who was unmarried at the time, took this to heart. In Paris she studied at the Académie Ranson under Félix Vallotton, Maurice Denis and Edouard Vuillard, among others.

This city on the banks of the river Seine is where she also met her future husband, the Bern painter Victor Surbek. In the year after their marriage in 1914, the two opened a private painting school at the Gerechtigkeitsgasse 55 in Bern in the beginning of 1915 where, together, they taught numerous students over a period of 16 years, including the following artists, who are represented in the Kunstmuseum Thun’s collection: Serge Brignoni, Max Fueter, Alfred Henri König, Helene Pflugshaupt, Roman Tschabold and Max von Mühlenen.

In the collection’s online catalogue you will find a selection of the works and short biographies of

Paul Klee
Victor Surbek
Marguerite Frey-Surbek