Europe on Cure. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Thomas Mann and the Myth of Davos

19 February – 3 October 2021

For more than 150 years, Davos has been a symbolic place, a focal point of European cultural history and political developments. Nowhere else were the hopes and longings, fears and threats of the late 19th and early 20th century so closely intertwined as here.

For the first time, Davos is now the subject of an extensive exhibition. The town stands as an example of the complexity and disunity of the modern age and illuminates European cultural history. Seven exhibition chapters draw connections between medical and cure history, architecture, winter sport, art and literature, philosophy and politics. More than 200 exhibits, including 45 masterpieces by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, which are among the most important works from his Davos years, offer a new insight into the cultural life of Europe at the turn of the century.

The ever-present risk to health led, then as now, to a mood of permanent crisis. At the same time, advances in medical technology fostered hopes for a long and healthy life. The mountain air held out the promise of a cure for tuberculosis, the infectious disease which took thousands of lives every year. Davos saw its chance and from 1870 quickly transformed from remote mountain village to internationally renowned health resort.

At the same time, society was beginning to understand the potential offered by sport and Davos cultivated an image as a winter sport destination that endures to this day. The town was always able to reinvent itself.

Davos attracted people of distinction: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Katia and Thomas Mann, and Sherlock Holmes’s inventor Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as Robert Louis Stevenson, Albert Einstein or Sonja Henie, the most successful female figure skater of all time. The exhibition tells their stories – of tragedy and success. Expressionist artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, for example, was searching for an idyll and turned his back of the Berlin metropolis in order to remain permanently in Davos. His pictures celebrate the Alpine world as a paradise of peaceful coexistence. Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain” (1924), on the other hand, turns Davos into a symbol for Europe’s dreams and catastrophes.

The exhibition features numerous highlights from the Kirchner Museum Davos, the exhibition’s cooperation partner. Other loans, some on show for the very first time, come from the Heimatmuseum Davos, Sportmuseum Davos, the Davos medical-historical collection and the Dokumentationsbibliothek Davos. In addition, original journals, notes and photographs from the Thomas Mann Archive of ETH Zurich strikingly document the history of Thomas Mann’s novel “The Magic Mountain”.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue full of illustrations and providing more in-depth information about the wider themes and individual aspects of the exhibition.