Background - 14.05.2020 - 00:00 

History lesson: Coghuf (Ernst Stocker) – a work of art to grace the Aula

It was an exception to the HSG’s art concept that a competition was organised for the artistic decoration of the Aula. Four artists participated and submitted sketches of a tapestry. On 16 June 1961, the jury under the chairmanship of cantonal minister Dr. Simon Frick awarded first prize to Coghuf.
Source: HSG Newsroom

Ernst Stocker was born in the Leimen Valley on the border between Alsace and the City of Basel on 28 October 1905. The son of a gardener and later engine driver, he grew up in a lower middle-class background. From 1920 to 1924, he served an apprenticeship as a locksmith like his elder brother Hans Stocker. As early as this, he made his first attempts at sculpture with Louis Léon Weber. In 1925, Ernst Stocker followed his nine-year-older brother to Paris to make a name for himself as a painter.

Learning and experience in Paris

From 1925 to 1927, Ernst Stocker tried his hand at artistic metalwork and sculpting with Jacques Lipchitz, until he found that painting was his medium. In order to demarcate himself from his elder brother, Hans Stocker – who was also a painter – he started to use the pseudonym of Coghuf in 1927, which he used to sign his work from then on.

The young Coghuf was inspired by the preceding generation of painters, by masters such as Honoré Daumier and Vincent van Gogh. Studying the works of artists of the first École de Paris such as Amedeo Modigliani and Maurice Utrillo, provided his with further impulses. Studies with Willi Baumeister guided him to contemporary work. However, it was primarily the ecstatic power of expression of the paintings by the Russian-Jewish painter Chaim Soutine that had a great influence on him.

Artistic self-discovery

In 1928, Coghuf returned to Basel for a short time. He became a member of the newly established Rot-Blau II group of artists, who organised a joint exhibition in 1929. However, Coghuf’s nature was that of a loner. In a time of self-discovery and a quest for his artistic home, he withdrew to the Jura, painted the first Jura landscapes and travelled south to Provence, Spain and Positano, etc.

In 1931, Coghuf went to Paris again in order to study at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. In the mid-1930s, he found his home in the wide craggy valleys of the Franches-Montagnes in the Jura. He first went to live in Le Bémont and later in Saignelégier. In the same year, he helped found the short-lived artist group BBZ 8.

Murals and mosaics in Basel

The first murals were created from 1927. The work entitled “Movement, or workers on the way to work” won Coghuf first prize in the competition of Kunstkredit Basel-Stadt. He created the mural “Les quatre heures” for the Isaak Iselin School in Basel. The works he created in the following years included the large mosaic “Knowing and Recognising (1955-1969) for the Collegiate Building of the University of Basel and the mural “The Magic Garden” for the Basel Vocational College (1961-1964). In 1939, Coghuf married the Basel-born Hedwig Rudin. They had ten children.

Artistic decoration of the HSG Aula

Originally, architect Walter Förderer had intended to engage Coghuf for the artistic decoration of the library of the new HSG building, but Coghuf recommended the Spanish artist Antoni Tàpies. Förderer’s comment on this situation when addressing the Chairman of the Art Committee, Prof. Eduard Naegeli, was as follows: “I asked Prof. Naegeli – as I had agreed with Coghuf – to ask him for his cooperation for the Aula instead of the library, where in accordance with his wishes he would be able to be more ‘colourful’.” On 16 September 1960, Prof. Naegeli asked Coghuf for a sketch for reliefs in the newly built Aula building.

It was an exception to the HSG’s art concept that a competition was organised for the artistic decoration of the Aula. Four artists participated and submitted sketches of a tapestry. On 16 June 1961, the jury under the chairmanship of cantonal minister Dr. Simon Frick awarded first prize to Coghuf. The University’s Board of Governors confirmed the decision on 16 February 1962.

Architect Förderer discussed the work with the artist and the artisans involved: “The drawings of the spaces between the glass, which were still planar in the competition sketch, were not enough for me. Detailed discussions with Coghuf – with the participation of Alfons Keller – then resulted in the strong iron relief with chambers for the panes staggered at various levels. In my view, this was one of the very few cases where we may rightly speak of an integration of art into architecture […].”

The execution of the glass reliefs was entrusted to the St.Gallen firms of Alfons Keller and Andreas Kübele. The tapestry was woven by Silvia Valentin according to Coghuf’s instructions. The glass windows were completed by late May 1963 and the tapestry was finished by the end of the year.

Later works

From 1946 onwards, Coghuf and his large family lived in Muriaux in the Jura. He was able to acquire a farmstead in the small village. Surrounded by headstrong farmers and horse breeders, Coghuf also devoted himself to horse rearing, apiculture and the extension of his model railway. He found peace and quiet for the further development of his artistic work. His glass pictures and windows, tapestries and enamel works were increasingly characterised by abstract and intensely colourful compositions. Coghuf himself called this creative process “internalisation”:

“What does abstraction mean in my work? Basically, this is a curious word. Internalisation, yes! That’s why I prefer to speak of a peinture intérieure; this strikes me as the best formulation.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Coghuf created further works for public spaces, among them the decoration of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Altstätten (Canton of St.Gallen) in1966-67, the mural “Winter” for the Progymnasium Binningen (Basel-Country) in 1968, a glass window for the Mettenberg Chapel (Canton of Lucerne) in 1969-70 and a glass window for the Saint-François d’Assise Church in Mulhouse (France) in 1974.

Coghuf (Ernst Stocker) died in Muriaux on 13 February 1976.

History portal of the University of St.Gallen