How I found out about Niklaus Stoecklin


There is one thing I like a lot: watching old pictures of places I know well and see how different they were in the past.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, while wandering in the old town looking for places to sketch, I passed in front of an Antiquity shop with the window full of old prints and books. I entered and on the right I saw a box filled with old black and white pictures of Basel. I jumped in, enjoying as usual watching familiar streets and building from another time. While browsing through the collection, I realized there were not only photograph but also prints of handmade drawings.

The antiquity shop and its owner - This is the hero of the story, in front of his shop, unknowingly drawn by me few days later when i returned to the area.

The antiquity shop and its owner - This is the hero of the story, in front of his shop, unknowingly drawn by me few days later when i returned to the area.

A few seemed from the same hand: black and white, simple, only ink outlines and very little hatching of historical Basel building and corners. The same things I like to draw.

I was surprised to find that one of them was showing a place I was sketching myself literally few minutes before! Same location, Petersgasse, same view, just skewed by few meters. I was intrigued and I kept searching in the box for other prints of the same author. And like that, I found another one that was again remarkably similar to one of my drawings: the view of Wettsteinbrucke from one of the Münster’s towers.

At this point I was excited. Not enough to buy the whole set, ok, but enough to buy at least the two prints of places found also in my sketchbook. Sketchbook that I of course pulled out from my backpack and put in front of the confused shop owner, to show him while I was buying the drawings.

I have to say at this point that, as I don’t speak German, and the shop owner didn’t speak English either, it was kind of difficult to communicate. I showed him the similarities between his prints and my sketchbook pages and I think he got it, but we must have looked so comically frustrated that a nice woman came to the rescue. She was a customer, and kindly acted as interpreter between me and the shop owner. And we indeed needed an interpreter!

The antiquarian, by seeing me so enthusiastic about these drawings, explained me (via the woman) that they were from Niklaus Stoecklin, an artist from Basel. He (she) told me Stoecklin was very active during the last century, and was famous for its posters. He seemed to be happy that somebody was interested in Stoecklin, and started looking on the shelves, pulling out books about the artist, all in German. He showed me collections of Stoecklin’s drawings of plants and insects, its posters and biographies, but I tried to tell him I was mainly interested in urban sketching. After a while he stopped going through his books, but I noticed he was not satisfied yet. Anyway, I bought the two prints, thanked him and the nice lady for his explanations and her translation, and left the shop, pleased.

Almost at the end of the street, I heard some commotion behind me: I turned and there he was, the gentleman from the shop, chasing after me. Did I forget to pay?

No: he found the book he was looking for and thought I’d like to see, and ran after me to give it to me: A collection of Niklaus Stoeckling’s drawings. He gave me the book as a gift and left me there, speechless. What a nice gesture.

And he was right! The book is amazing, it contains Niklaus Stoeckling’s paintings of Basel, made between the ‘20s and the ‘60s of the last century. In it, I found others that are incredibly similar to mines. Although he was light years better than me, of course, we have a similar eye in choosing locations.

I will use this book as a guide now: I already scouted the sites of almost all of his paintings and I will made my present-day version.

It’s fantastic sometimes to see that where he drew a small tree, there’s now a huge tree. It gave me chills but at the same time I find it cool!