Motta was born on December 29, 1871 in Airolo and was nine years junior to the artist. He was educated at the Universities of Freiburg, Munich and Heidelberg. In 1893 he qualified as a lawyer, working in the Ticino until 1911 when he became a Bundesrat. He was president of Switzerland in 1915, 1920, 1927, 1932 and 1937. He lived in Bern at Bernastrasse 16 in the 1930s. He died on January 23, 1940.
Muller-Ury certainly painted Motta in Switzerland in 1938, but possibly he sketched a portrait in 1937. There are a number of letters from Motta – all in Italian (artist’s papers) – the first of which is dated by Motta ‘Bern, January 7, 1937’ and is written in his own handwriting on deckle-edged paper and marked ‘Der Bundesprasident: Der Schweizerischen Eidgenossenschaft:
‘Dear Mr. Adolfo Muller-Ury,
I am thanking you for your greetings and wishes sent to me and the kindnesses of your letter of 17 December last. I reciprocate your wishes to you with much sincerity and also in the name of my family.
In a little while I send you two photographs, and if you wish for some others I am pleased to make more for you very willingly. I hope that the two will be enough.
It would cheer me up to see you this year when you come again to Switzerland and in the meanwhile I send you my best wishes
Yours affectionately, Giuseppe Motta.’
Painted for Motta’s home town of Bellinzona in the Ticino. Muller-Ury received, through Motta himself, confirmation of the delivery of the picture dated November 23, 1938 (No. 5485.- 2/3 ar.-) from Il Consiglio di Stato della Repubblica e Cantone del Ticino, signed by the President and the Secretary of State (artist’s papers).
Preg. Sig. Adolfo Müller-Ury
(a mezzo dell’alto Dip. Politico federale)
Il quadro ad olio nel quale Ella ha ritrato l’on. Consigliere federale Giuseppe Motta, offerto in dono al Cantone Ticino ci é in questi giorni pervenuto in perfette condizioni.
Alle parole di soddisfazione e di ringraziamento che in pari tempo esprimiamo all’on. Motta, aggiungiamo le nostre felicitazioni a Lei per l’opera d’arte e, coi ringraziamenti per il dono, l’assicurazione che particolarmente gradito ci é questo ritratto del nostro eminento Concittadino, anche in considerazione dei vincoli di sangue che, da parte materna, legano Lei al nostro Cantone e particolmente al paese di Airolo.
Saremmo assai lieti ed onorati se, quando avesse l’occasione di passare da qui, ci fosse dato fare la Sua conoscenza personale e mostrar Le, speriamo con suo gradimento ed approvazione, il luogo dove il quadro viene collocato.
Le presentiamo, preg. Signore, i sensi della nostra distinta stima e considerazione.
PER IL CONSIGLIO DI STATO Il PRESIDENTE
Il Cons. Segr. di Stato
Muller-Ury presumably began the portrait in New York from photographs, for in a letter dated ‘Bern, August 8, 1938’ Motta replied – on the notepaper of ‘Il Capo del Dipartimento politico federale’ – to the artist who was staying at the Bellevue Palace Hotel in Andermatt that Summer, as follows:
‘Distinguished and dear Mr. Muller-Ury,
In response to your valued letter of the 5th of this month, I hasten to tell you that the painting has arrived and that it is presently at my home.
So I expect you with pleasure on Wednesday morning of the 16th of this month at 10 a.m. If for any reason presently unknown I am not able to receive you at the fixed time, I will make a point of letting you know the day before or in the course of the
morning of the 16th at the Hotel Bellevue, from where you will be coming.
In the pleasure of being able to greet you personally, I wish you accept in the meantime my continued goodwill and very cordial greetings
Motta wrote to Muller-Ury on October 11, 1938 partly as follows:
‘Dear Mr. Muller-Ury,
Many weeks have already passed since your departure from Bern without me having been able to inform you about what has happened in the meantime.
Soon I will send you some photographs of the picture painted by you. One of the first photographs didn’t turn out very well so I had to get another one made much
There has been here for a few days now a delegation from the Ticinese authorities to see the portrait. I announced to the gentleman that comprised this delegation, the lawyer Angiolo Martgnoni, vice-president of the Government, and the lawyer
Enrico Celio, director of Public Education, what your intentions are.
The said delegation will receive from you the magnificent gift with deep gratitude.
The painting will be placed either in the Government room or in the Grand Council Chamber of the Government palace. The Government will, in time, write to you.
I take this good opportunity to repeat to you, also in the name of my wife and children, the expression of our deep gratitude.
The painting is pleasing and has received many most favourable judgements.
Wishing you, dear Mr. Muller-Ury, the really good wishes of all my family and mine in particular.
I hope you are in good health
Your devoted, G. Motta.’
The final relevant letter is dated November 25, 1938:
‘Distinguished and dear Mr. Muller-Ury,
Please accept my sincere apologies for being so long in replying to your valued letter of 21st October, for which I thank you warmly, in particular for the pleasantness which you showed me in every line.
I am happy to be able to send you, on behalf of the Council of State of Canton Ticino, the enclosed letter of thanks for your gift. As you will see the Ticinese authorities are really appreciative of your act and give the best responses to your picture which is a pleasure to everyone. It still hasn’t been decided where it will be placed, whether in the meeting room of the Council of State or whether in that of the Grand Council. Both places are worthy. I am certain in every way that the Ticinese authorities will know what to do for the best.
You will also see that your next trip to Europe, to Bellinzona, is awaited. You certainly won’t lack invitations from the Ticinese authority which will be very happy to receive you and to personally repeat to you their gratitude.
I also enclose for you a photograph of the painting. It was taken by a specialist art photographer in Bern. But you cannot be completely satisfied. The painting is not reproduced with all the effects that the colours give to the original work. I am sorry not to be able to send you another better one of it.
Permit me now, dear Mr. Muller-Ury, to know what interests me about your precious health. I hope that you had a good crossing and that you are as well as during your stay in Bern.
Pleased to have been able to see you again and I wish you to accept my sincere wishes for your health and your artistic work, my repeated thanks for your kindness towards me and my cordial regards.
Devotedly, G. Motta
P.S. My wife has also gratefully received your letter and returns the same and for your health most warmly as do each and every one of my children.
Again, G. M.’