Elisarion’s Photographic Legacy
In 2011 Christophe Brandt and his Swiss Institute for the Conservation of Photography were able to complete the restoration of the “Fonds photographique Elisarion”. This collection includes about 330 glass plates (the majority measure 13 x 18 cm), about 500 vintage prints of these negatives from the years 1900–1950, most of which were mounted on brown sheets of cardboard or in albums, numerous cartes de cabinet and cartes de visite of the family, private photos of friends and models, works by other photographers, and also photographs of antique artworks and Italian painting which served the painter Elisàr von Kupffer as sources of inspiration and examples.
After Elisàr von Kupffer’s death in 1942 and his companion Eduard von Mayer’s demise in 1960, the house and its contents eventually came into the possession of the municipality of Minusio after some detours. However, the community was unable to appreciate the significance of this legacy. After the decision was made to turn the Elisarion into a local Cultural Centre, the building was cleared out completely. As a result, the overall context and the interrelating iconographic system between the paintings, furniture, ritualistic outfits, and colonnades were destroyed. Both the colourful interior decoration and the garden with its colonnades are gone. However, the loss of the corresponding overall design that led from “the helter-skelter world” (die Wirrwelt), to the bright cyclorama of “the Clear World of the Blissful” (die Klarwelt der Seligen), is even more deplorable. It is thanks to Harald Szeemann alone that quite a large number of not only literary but also pictorial works by both gentlemen have survived. This collection also includes the photographic works.
Given that both the original overall context and the original furnishings no longer exist, the remaining photographs play a key role, as only they are able convey an impression of the building’s former appearance. The digital processing of the surviving glass negatives and the restoration of the vintage prints were important preconditions for an extensive examination of this unique legacy. This rehabilitation was partly financed by the Memoriav Association and provided the basis for the exhibition Das Elisarion und seine Ursprünge (The Elisarion and its beginnings) which was on display from September 2011 to August 2012.