Sunday, September 26, 2010


I participated in a recent contest that revolved around honoring your mentor. I felt that I have a rich history of mentorship and composed the following brief video.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Swiss Soldier

Throughout my travels to visit family in Europe I seemed to frequently notice the same two 18th century prints. The prints typically appeared as a set. The first was of a Swiss soldier leaving home to join in the service a foreign power much to the dismay of his family. The second was the same soldier upon his triumphant return home.

I have since learned they are from the celebrated Swiss painter Sigmund Freudenberger, who specialized in rustic scenes of rural Bernese life. It made sense that my family would have these prints as the represented an idealized version of Swiss military service that they were deeply invested in.

The departure of the Swiss soldier

The return of the Swiss soldier

Interestingly, Henri de Büren while traveling through the United States in 1852, as part of his two-year journey through the Americas, even makes of mention of seeing them at the house of Mr. de Freudenreich in Alpina, New York.

Bio of Sigmund Freudenberger from
Swiss, 1745-1801,Swiss painter, draughtsman and engraver. In 1761 he went to work for the portrait painter Emanuel Handmann in Basle, where he stayed for three years. In 1765, with Adrian Zingg (1734-86), he left for Paris, where he trained with Jakob Schmutzer (1733-1811) and frequented the studio of Jean Georges Wille, the celebrated engraver. He worked as a book illustrator during this period. The work of Boucher, whom he met, and of Greuze and Fragonard had a significant influence on his artistic development. Freudenberger returned in 1773 to Berne, where he undertook several portraits. He became friendly with Johann Ludwig Aberli, with whom he travelled the countryside, which he recorded in numerous drawings, watercolours and engravings. He specialized in genre scenes, rustic still-lifes and portrayals of Bernese peasant life, which became very popular. In some works, such as a red chalk drawing of A Woman Playing the Harp (1778; Zurich, Schweizer. Landesmus.), he continued the gallant style he had learnt from Boucher. His watercolours were frequently engraved, either individually or in series, and hand-coloured. His style is characterized by detailed and careful execution and by an intimate, narrative approach, although he tended to idealize his rustic subject-matter. His work was significant in introducing genre subjects in Switzerland, where artists had tended to concentrate on pure landscape. He ran a large studio where Daniel Lafond (1763-1831), Niklaus Kenig and Georg Mind (1768-1814) were pupils. The French Revolution was disastrous for his art and his business and clouded the last years of his life.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jean Elisé de Büren (1762-1814)

When I was a boy I was enamored with tales of family prestige and success. The more heartrending passages of the de Büren family saga did not seem to effect me. After becoming a father, that changed. My emotional interaction and reaction to my family history has become much more visceral, even uncomfortable at times. The story of Jean Elisé falls into that category.

Jean Elisé de Büren was the second son of Charles de Büren (1731-1787) and Cornélie Jacobée van Assendelft (1733-1799). He was born in Holland while he father was still serving in the Swiss Guards. Upon returning to Switzerland he would be raised with his other brothers and sister at Vaumarcus.

Jean unfortunately had a very weak constitution and it appears he had a skeletal condition that made him progressively more hunched and stiff over time. In the painting below the fingers on his right hand hint at his condition. In spite of his ailment he was known as someone who was happy and kind, and in 1795 he became a member of the grand council of Bern.

Jean Elisé de Büren (1762-1814) painted most likely around 1795.

Jean would marry in 1803 Catherine Louise Charlotte de Thellung (1782-1814) daughter of François de Thellung, of the grand council of Biel and Salomé Catherine Jaggi. They would have two girls, Catherine and Cornélie. In a span of 15 days in 1814, Jean, his wife and his mother-in-law would succomb to Typhoid fever and die, leaving the girls orphans. Jean was a bad money manager and on top of losing their parents the girls were virtually penniless.

The future of Catherine and Cornélie could have been quite dire. Thankfully though they would go and live with their godparents Frédéric and Julie de Büren (de Wattenwyl) in Bern who became wonderful surrogate parents and would raise them well.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Funding Suchard's Steam Boat

Philippe Suchard
(1797-1884) who is known the world over as a Swiss chocolate maker, was also a great industrialist.

After a trip to the United States in 1824-1825, where he viewed the effectiveness of American Steam Boat travel, he set upon bringing the same mode of transport to Neuchâtel. In 1834 he had a boat built in Paris and called it "L'industriel." The Steam boat enterprise that he brought to the lake of Neuchâtel was funded by the local government along with the private assistance of the Count of Gorgier, Louis de Pourtales and by my ancestor the Baron of Vaumarcus, Albert de Büren.

"Philippe Suchard did not confine himself to improving chocolate. In 1834 he brought the first iron steam ship to Lake Neuchatel, the Industriel, and followed this up the next year with a steam ship on Lake Thun. His experience with shipping led him to back projects to regulate the rivers of the Jura region, which had the effect of lowering the levels of Lakes Biel, Murten and Neuchatel and putting an end to centuries of flooding. (The newly created shoreline also helped reveal the Celtic settlement of La Tène dating back to around 450 BC, one of the most important archaeological finds ever made in Switzerland.)" – Courtesy of

Suchard's "L'industriel" © Museum of Art and History, Neuchâtel

It makes sense that my ancestor would take part in local affairs, but the more I read, the greater my respect builds for Albert de Büren. He not only focused on Botany and Science but invested his time, energy and money in what would improve the quality of life for the Canton as a whole.


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