Vera Haller


Vera Racs was born into a middle class, Jewish family in Budapest on 4th July 1910. Little is known of her childhood: we know she was educated at a Catholic school, probably from an awareness of the prevalent political ideology of the young Hungarian nation.

From 1929 to 1931 she studied under Elizabeth Duncan (Isadora Duncan’s sister) at her dance school in Salzburg where she gained a diploma as a classical dance teacher. At the same time she was also learning how to represent motion in drawing (Bewegungszeichnung) under the guidance of Margarethe Hammerschlag (1894-1944 Auschwitz). Having returned to Budapest in 1932 she became a set designer and was also involved in the making of films. It was under these circumstances that she met the renowned film editor and director Hermann Haller (Zurich 1909 – 1985 Boswil) whom she married in 1935 thus obtaining Swiss citizenship. On the threshold of the Second World War the couple left Hungary and, following a short stay in Berlin, moved to Zurich in Switzerland.

Here the artist’s education in the field of figurative art continued at the Kleine Akademie under the guidance of Henry Wabel (Zurich 1889-1981).

A friendship and artistic association with Jenny Losinger-Ferri (Lugano 1902-1993) was born, which later intensified when Haller settled in the canton of Ticino.

In 1949 she studied for a time in Holland, the following year in Spain, in 1951 in Italy and, during several stays in Paris between 1951 and 1955, she continued her advanced studies at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière under the guidance of Edouard Mac-Avoy (1905-1991). She became a member of the Zurich section of SPSAS (Society of Painters, Sculptors and Architects) in 1952 and of the WbK (Werkbund bildender Künstler – fine arts association) following which she held her first solo show in New York where she met the art critic James Fitzsimmons (Shanghai 1919-1985 Lugano). Fitzsimmons caught up with the artist in Zurich, sparking a relationship which would lead to Vera Haller’s second marriage in the early 60s.

In 1961 the couple moved to Lugano where Fitzsimmons edited the prestigious contemporary art journal Art International that he founded in 1958.

From 1966 Vera Haller, in search of her own creative space, rented a modest house in the heart of Mezzovico.

The couple’s life in Ticino was marked by numerous professional relocations, various trips both for pleasure and study to north Africa, south east Asia and the Middle East as well as the Antilles; journeys which offered the artist abundant and ever new themes for her painting. Her artistic activity in Ticino was closely linked to that of the SPSAS and the STBA (Società ticinese di Belle Arti).

Vera Haller withdrew to her house/studio in Mezzovico on the death of her husband, where she remained until her own death in Lugano on 25 February 1991.


Vera Haller’s first professional training was as a teacher of classical ballet in Austria. At the beginning of the 30s her research into the body’s gracefulness and expressivity led her to take two drawing courses at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna, specifically on the representation of movement, under the guidance of Margarethe Hammerschlag (1894-1944 Auschwitz).

She began painting once she had arrived in Switzerland just after her first marriage at the outbreak of World War Two. Haller came to painting relatively late and her first known oil paintings are from 1945 when the artist was 35.

She studied at the Kleine Akademie in Zurich under Henry Wabel (Zurich 1889-1981) and took several advanced courses at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris between 1951 and 1955, studying with Edouard Mac-Avoy (1905-1991).

As a painter I’m attracted above all to figurative art. I’m an expressionist and lean towards abstraction through progressive simplification.

In the context of a waning late-cubist style, influenced by her Zurich teacher, the quotation draws attention to the fact that Vera Haller already showed a fine technical mastery of painting, marked by very secure formal construction and an essence which seems to predict her later change of direction towards the abstract.

In 1953 in New York she held her first solo exhibition at the Galerie Moderne.

Through her meeting James Fitzsimmons, who turned out to be the main facilitator of new cultural opportunities, her works slowly lost their plasticity, solidity and their initial substance; they also gradually became less figurative.

This path took her through an initial conformity to gestural-tachisme and led, from 1956, to radical grappling with the primary means of expression in painting: strokes, colour and the two-dimensional nature of a composition on a canvas.

In 1957 the artist adopted her own variation of the informal style.

It turned out that the gestural aspects were a throwback to the earlier figurative painting. A fresh freedom and urgency of pictorial gesture, not haphazard, seemed to recall the drawings of motion with which she contended a quarter of a century earlier during her ballet training.

The effect of conforming to the informal style in the European mould and to American abstract expressionism brought about a certain detachment from the avant-garde experience and is therefore considered the fruit of a natural and well thought-through evolution of her own artistic discourse. This was always characterized by a deep connection with pictorial tradition both of the past, if one consideres the use of bronze gilt, and of her interest in non-European cultures, from whom she extracted formal archetypal motifs.

Gradually, from 1960 onwards, her painting abandoned strokes to re-evaluate shape, a subject which evolved through dominant and insistent archaic motifs, characterized by the vertical and horizontal contrasts of a cross, painted thickly so that the colour came alive, almost organic.

Here the artist reached the zenith of her informal expressive intensity, where the interior conflict between instinct and rationality took place on the most emotional level.
Her later circles series, from between 1962-64 began to submit to the gradual lessening of this conflict, a lessening which showed itself both in the shape of the painted surface with corners eliminated, offering continuity with the wall spatially, as well as embuing the picture with symbolic value.

As a person of vivacious intelligence and acute observational skills, Vera Haller was always attracted by and involved with details which constitute the patina of time: symbols, fading, sedimentations on walls and the facades of rural buildings of her environment; interior items, which had been constantly worked on until they became the inspirational motifs of her artistic communication.

The series Muri e dei Contenitori (walls and some containers) emerged.

The artist didn’t charge these works with strong, expressive elements but rather she turned once again to searching for a pure pictorial synthesis which also involved mechanical procedures such as the use of a roller instead of a brush. Using this tool she intended to lighten the painted surface as well as reduce the colour and, above all, the substance. This last element, which became impalpable, ended with the torment of the informal style resolving into a delicate balance of elementary and controlled shapes. The painted surface rose up to become a container for sensations and emotions, in a way rediscovering the traditional illusion of perspective with solutions close to lyrical abstraction.

From 1974/75 she developed a new and final style: her painting became geometric-abstract, conforming to Zurich-style concretism.

Her work method was based on the idea that rationality and conceptuality represent the inescapable basis, the actual origin of artistic action thus completely overturning earlier gestural approaches.
Numerous small sketches and studies for a series of paintings are evidence of this new approach.

By now Haller was expressing her need for absolute control over every creative stage: she herself prepared the colours to obtain her personal range.

The search for formal and chromatic precision was therefore absolute. Nevertheless the pictures still have titles – Traces, Opening…- and some historical references showing that the fine thread with a given reality had not been lost.

The need for smooth, even and flat surfaces involved abandoning oils in favour of acrylics which became her sole medium for the entire output of her last two decades. In the initial part of this phase, until about 1978, the shapes were spread out evenly on white backgrounds, thereafter a single colour freely pervades the surface. The elementary principle of intersection between vertical and horizontal, always an inherent aspect of Vera Haller’s art, allows infinite variations in geometric abstraction.

The artist seemed to rally and to retrace more concretely her previous experiences in painting, conferring on this purely rational painting a very special emotional intensity, characterised mainly by memory.

The formal grids, which over time became more symmetrical, proved to be the terminus of a path directed towards a constantly increasing conceptuality.