Jakob Briner (1882 - 1967)

The customs officer Jakob Briner, who was born in the so-called Haus Zur Lerche at Obertor in Winterthur, bequeathed to his native city a collection of paintings by old masters that concentrates on 17th century Dutch and Flemish works.

Jakob Briner was a person hard to categorize among the illustrious ranks of Swiss art collectors, whose magnanimous patronage gives such richness to so many museums. The focus of his attention was not on better-known names that guarantee prestige and a knowledgeable reputation - works he was in any case unable to afford. His motivation was rather the joy of tracking down unusual - not just precious - objects. He collected things that are somehow fascinating, can tell a story or are otherwise memorable. After Jakob’s death his brother Alfred wrote, "During his holidays he immersed himself in museum collections all over Europe, and came to the realization that Switzerland was actually quite poor in painting galleries with fine old artworks. This gave him the idea of establishing a collection of lesser-known Dutch and Flemish old masters that could later be donated as a bequest in his own name to his native city of Winterthur."

Jakob Briner acquired his knowledge gradually through the perusal of specialist literature as well as from visits to museums and auctions at home and abroad. His limited financial means obliged him to concentrate on forms of art for which there was little demand. His first acquisitions were made in 1916, but from the middle of the 1930s he concentrated increasingly on paintings and miniature portraits. It was probably Basel-born Hans Schneider-Christ, a long-standing director of the Federal Office for the Documentation of Art History (Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie) in The Hague, who slowly drew Briner toward Dutch and Flemish painting of the 17th century. Briner steadily familiarised himself with this field, developing his own intuitive feel for quality.

Jakob Briner, who died without a direct descendant, started to consider the future of the Collection quite early in life, and from the 1950s began to seek a suitable recipient to whom he could donate it for permanent public display. Eventually, shortly before his death, Briner learned that the Collection was to be housed in Winterthur’s newly renovated Rathaus (town hall), where the museum was officially opened in 1970.