Karl Im Obersteg

(Basel 1883-1969 Vevey)

Karl Im Obersteg, born 1883 in Basel, died 1969 in Vevey, was the owner of a haulage company in Basel. He bought his first pictures at the end of the first decade of the 20th century, took his bearings at first from the local art around him, but quickly turned to major international Swiss art. In the winter of 1918/19, a longer stay at Ascona became a crucial station of discovery: Karl Im Obersteg became acquainted with Russian war emigrants: Marianne von Werefkin, Alexej von Jawlensky and Robert Genin. From this meeting, later also with Marc Chagall, came the friendship with artists that decisively marked the profile of the collection. On numerous trips to Europe’s metropolises, Karl Im Obersteg continued to expand his important collection of Classical Modernism. 

Karl and Marianne Im Obersteg, 1917
Karl Im Obersteg in the thirties

In 1913 Karl Im Obersteg married Marianne Buess, a daughter of a wine merchant from Sissach and member of the canton parliament, Emil Buess-Haegler. Their son Jürg was born on 16 October 1914 as an only child in Basel. Marianne shared her husband’s enthusiasm for art. Unfortunately her health was not very robust. She died just short of her 43rd birthday on 15 June 1936 in Basel. 

After his wife’s early death, Karl Im Obersteg moved into a new building in Basel’s Gellert quarter. He lived there with Jürg for a short time. With the outbreak of World War II the collector moved to Geneva into a spacious apartment at the Cours des Bastions 4. From here he directed his haulage company in Basel and its branches in Zurich and St. Gallen.

Karl Im Obersteg at the age of 75 years
The art collector Karl Im Obersteg standig before Pablo Picassos Arlequin (1923)

From 1938-1943 Karl Im Obersteg was a member of the art commission for the Public Art Collection in Basel. In this capacity, he, as an advisor, accompanied the then director of the art museum, Georg Schmidt to the auction of “degenerate” art at the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne and on other occasions secured further important purchases for the museum. From time to time he lent out the works in his possession for exhibitions in the Kunstmuseum or in the Kunsthalle Basel. 

Jürg Im Obersteg

(Basel 1914-1983 Basel)

Jürg Im Obersteg grew up in Basel in an atmosphere of art and culture, but also developed a very early interest in science. He studied medicine, specialized in pathology and won his doctorate in forensic medicine. Jürg Im Obersteg was a forensic pathologist from 1953-1970 and was professor and director of the institute of forensic medicine in Basel. In 1961 he married Doris Lerch of Basel, likewise a forensic pathologist and a close colleague. The marriage was without children, the common professional engagement all the stronger. During his entire life, Jürg Im Obersteg took an active interest in the collection and took over the management of the haulage company. He gave up his career as a forensic pathologist and professor for forensic medicine at the University of Basel. In the years from 1969 to 1983, Jürg Im Obersteg expanded the collection and closed the Constructivist and Suprematist “gaps” by purchasing a Theo van Doesburg and an Aleksander Rodchenko. For the first time in 1975, the collection was shown as a whole to a broad public at the Bern Kunstmuseum. In 1979 Jürg Im Obersteg fell gravely ill; he died in 1983. 

Jürg Im Obersteg mountain climbing
Jürg Im Obersteg on his motorcycle
Jürg Im Obersteg at the opening of the exhibition Die Sammlung Im Obersteg at the Kunstmuseum Bern, June 25, 1975

Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch

(Basel 1931-2015 Basel)

Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch studied medicine in Basel and afterwards worked as a forensic pathologist and assistant to Jürg Im Obersteg. She worked side by side with her husband until 1969. In addition to her professional engagement, Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch had a great love of the theater and, through the family influence, now also of the visual arts. She too gave up her position as forensic pathologist after the death of her father-in-law in 1969 and supported Jürg Im Obersteg in cultivating and expanding the art collection. The couple lived surrounded by their artworks in Basel’s old city, where the collection was always accessible to those interested. This lively engagement with such a topflight art collection did not fade with the death of her husband in 1983. Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch kept up her love for abstract-constructive art that Jürg Im Obersteg had initiated. She, for instance, purchased a Kurt Schwitters collage and other works by Russian artists. In 1992 Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch converted the valuable collection into a foundation, which she headed as president up to 2006. During her term of office, a renovated historical building in Oberhofen on the Lake of Thun was rented, where the works were shown during the summers of 1995 to 2002. Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch thus fulfilled her wish of making the artworks accessible to a larger public. In 2002, Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch, together with the foundation board, decided to bring the collection definitively back to its home base, Basel. 

Jürg and Doris Im Obersteg at the opening of the exhibition Die Sammlung Im Obersteg at the Kunstmuseum Bern, June 25, 1975
Doris Im Obersteg-Lerch at the opening of the exhibition Die Sammlung Im Obersteg at the Kunstmuseum Basel, February 13, 2004