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Hans Erni
Swiss Lithographer and Illustrator

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Hans Erni was born in 1909 in Lucerne (Switzerland) as the third child of eight siblings. His father was a cabin cruiser engineer on the Vierwaldstättersee, and there were no traces of artistic inclinations in his family.  1915-1927 he attended Public School, apprenticed as measurement technician, and later as building constructor.  It was during his apprenticeships he acquired his first knowledge about art literature, which made him decide to continue his professional career as artist, so he attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Lucerne 1927-1928. 

The years 1928-29 were spent in Paris at the Académie Julian, where he was awarded a first prize in an art competition, at the same time working as free lance artist in his own studio.  In 1929 he continued to Berlin where he spent two years in the United Stately College for Free and Applied Art. Returning to Paris in 1930 he met several contemporary artists, and was deeply impressed by Picasso and Georges Braque ad their work. It is certainly not unjustified that Erni is called "The Swiss Picasso". After travels to Belgium, Italy and London, and several public commissions in his native Switzerland, he was the co-founder of the Swiss Group of Abstract Art "Allianz". To the public Hans Erni is best known for his numerous wall-decorations and sculptures, displayed practically everywhere in Switzerland; little is known, however, about his talented stamp designs.  His very first stamp designs for Switzerland were issued in 1964 as propaganda stamps -- Pro Aqua (1964), and Planetarium (1969). 

Switzerland 1964. Hans Erni. Propaganda Stamp "Pro Aqua".
Switzerland 1964.
Propaganda Stamp "Pro Aqua"
Hans Erni. Postcard designed by Hans Erni, depicting the winged horse Pegasus.


A very unusual postcard, designed by Hans Erni, 
depicting his art work the Winged Horse Pegasus,
see also the stamp immediately bottom left. 

Switzerland 1969. Hans Erni. Propaganda Stamp "Planetarium".
Switzerland 1969.
Propaganda Stamp "Planetarium"

After prolific years with many travels, studies and public commissions for Switzerland, his first stamp designs for Liechtenstein appeared at the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the principality. The set depicts various symbols, with the portrait of the princely couple added to the 80c-value. In 1971 Hans Erni designed the Liechtenstein issues for the 11th Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan.  (Scott # 492-495), and in 1972 followed the stamps for the 20th Summer Olympics in Munich, also issued by Liechtenstein. (Scott # 496-499), and stamps for the Swiss Post Office, portraying Giacometti, Ramuz, Le Corbusier, Einstein, and Honegger.  

In 1975 followed the designs for the Swiss stamps honoring "International Woman's Year", and in 1981 the Pro Aero stamp at the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the then flagship of the Swiss Aviation, Swissair. The latter stamp is a semi-postal with the surcharge of CHF 2+1. 

Switzerland 1975. Hans Erni. International Women's Year. Switzerland 1975. Hans Erni. Propaganda Stamp "Pro Aero".

Also some of the widely acknowledged Europa Stamps are Hans Erni's designs, and show his exquisite talent for portraiture.  Here are only shown a few.  Switzerland has issued a large number of them, including some stamps in the Pro Juventute- and the Pro Patria-series.  Particularly the two allegorical portraits from 1986 are charming and well done. 

Switzerland 1985. Europa Stamp. Hans Erni. Erneste Ansermat. Switzerland 1985. Europa Stamp. Hans Erni. Frank Martin. Switzerland 1986. Europa Stamp. Hans Erni. Woman's Head. Switzerland 1986. Europa Stamp. Hans Erni. Man's Head.

On September 15th, 1979, the Hans Erni Museum was inaugurated in Lucerne, and that same year the artist designed the Swiss portrait series of personalities that became Swiss by Choice; an interesting set, which I display with great pleasure, as all of these personalities were artists that found their final artistic freedom in Switzerland. There is no mention of Hans Erni doing these stamps, neither on the stamps nor in the Swiss Zumstein-catalogue; the fact is only mentioned in Hans Erni's biography on the Internet. 

Switzerland 1979. Hans Erni. Portrait series of "Swiss by Choice". Rainer Maria Rilke. Switzerland 1979. Hans Erni. Portrait series of "Swiss by Choice". Paul Klee. Switzerland 1979. Hans Erni. Portrait series of "Swiss by Choice". Hermann Hesse. Switzerland 1979. Hans Erni. Portrait series of "Swiss by Choice". Thomas Mann.
In 1988 he designed the Swiss stamp honouring the International Music Festival in Lucerne. This stamp has a "typical touch" of Picasso, who Hans Erni met in Paris and came to admire very much. 
  • Switzerland 1988.  International Music Festival in Lucerne. 

Switzerland 1988. Hans Erni. International Music Festival in Lucerne.

In 1993 Hans Erni visited Hong Kong for further studies, and later that year he was present in the United Nations' Building in New York at the occasion of the International Peace Day, where his stamp designs for Peace were released by the UN in New York, Geneva, and Vienna.  Two of these issues are shown below. They are true masterpieces of graphic art, and have the unmistakable "Erni-touch".  

United Nations (Vienna) 1993. Hans Erni. "Peace". United Nations (Geneva) 1993. Hans Erni. "Peace".

In 1995 came the latest -- and probably also the last -- stamps from Erni's hands.  Fully understandable since he that year celebrated his 86th birthday.  The Erni-issues for both years were Europa Stamps.  

Switzerland 1995. Hans Erni. Dedicated to Peace. Switzerland 1995. Hans Erni. Dedicated to Freedom.

Hans Erni celebrated his 95th birthday in 2004, and was at the same time honoured with the title "Honorary Citizen of Lucerne".  Through his work Hans Erni has truly brought art to Swiss philately. 

"To see beyond your own individuality nowadays immediately means that you have to speak another language, and that you have to accept other visual languages as well.  In my own experience, to travel brings about a better understanding of the other, by making known that which was foreign. This process of familiarizations constitutes a better insight into the universal, which, at the very end, is the brotherhood of man."  (Hans Erni). 

Other than for Switzerland, Hans Erni has designed a large number of stamps for Liechtenstein (1969, 1971, and 1972), the International Office for Labour [ILO] (1975, 1983 and 1988), and United Nations in New York (The International Refugee Year 1984). These stamps are not shown on this page which is confined to his Swiss stamp designs, but are displayed on the Hans Erni Stamp Gallery, a website located in Switzerland. 


Other illustrators on this site: 

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