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The following biographical information has been provided by Katharina von Salis, a granddaughter of the artist.
Hanni Bay was born near Bern, Switzerland. In 1901-1902 she worked in Antwerp, Belgium, from where she had to return to Switzerland after the sudden death of her father, the owner of a textile factory. From 1902 to 1904 she followed lectures at the arts and crafts school and then at the Academy Groeber in Munich, Germany. From 1906 -1909 she was a student of Cuno Amiet, a well known Swiss artist and friend of Ferdinand Hodler and the Giacometti family, at Oschwand. She also studied at the Academy Ranson in Paris with Felix Vallotton, Pierre Bonnard, Edouard Vuillard and Maurice Denis.
In 1910, Hanni Bay married the lawyer and politician Albert Hitz and moved with him to Chur, Switzerland where she was active painting and drawing as much as possible. However, she was also very busy raising her three daughters, who were born 1913, 1915 and 1917. She left a wall-painting in the local hospital, taught art-courses, composed advertising posters and did portraits of local VIP's. She was active in socialistic politics and improving the circumstances of mother and child.
In 1920 the family moved to Zurich, and Hanni Bay was divorced in 1925. She managed to feed and educate her daughters by journalistic work such as drawing VIPs from Politics, Science and Culture for national journals. She also earned money by teaching painting, and by portraying women, children and men from half of Switzerland by illustrating books etc. It was only after all her daughters were married off and her youngest moved to Bern in 1942, that she also moved back there and— finally — could do what she wanted most: to paint, mainly landscapes.
Until the end of World-War II in 1945, she worked mainly in Switzerland, but later she also painted in France, Italy, Egypt and Tunisia. From her youth until her latest years, she often visited Paris where her favorite subjects were in the "Jardin du Luxembourg", along the river Seine, and the Cathedral "Notre Dame". When the weather was too cold, hot or rainy for painting outside, she spent her time drawing and painting at the Academy Grande Chaumière.
In the early years of her career, it was nearly impossible for female
artists to exhibit in Switzerland. Thus some women joined and founded
the first Swiss Association of Female Artists. Hanni Bay was one of the
However, it hardly interested her to sell her paintings. Sales were mainly organized by her youngest daughter, Charlotte von Salis-Bay, a fashion journalist and illustrator, who organized many exhibitions both in Bern and other Swiss towns.
Based on her early experience of discrimination of being a girl — Hanni Bay as a young woman had to clean the shoes of her brothers instead of being allowed to draw, while they could play and do what they wanted. Sensing inequality, she became an ardent fighter for women's rights, including the right to vote, which Swiss women only got in 1971. She had a very independent mind, studied old rather than contemporary painters, and generally read classic and modern German and French writers.
Having enjoyed a very thorough education in art, Hanni Bay, in her artistic expression, enjoyed many contemporary techniques in her portraits, figure, still life, rural and alpine/mountain landscape painting, and in illustration, murals, wood engraving and lithography.
Literature about Hanni Bay includes a well illustrated book of 130 pages by
Marie-Louise Schaller: Hanni Bay. Portrait einer Berner Malerin. Bern: Benteli, 1985
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