Franz Fromm and his rare art collection at Villa Freischütz

Last Friday afternoon I ascended the snowcapped stairs of hidden Villa Freischütz, located in a picturesque landscape in the renowned spa town of Merano. 

As soon as entering the villa, I entered a world of wonders, feeling almost like an old romantic movie in black and white including loads of aesthetic scenes. Indeed I have experienced an intense connection with the arts and its former owners, while strolling through the well-decorated living rooms. Each of the rooms aims to showcase beautiful as well as less pretty items, in order to show the realities of a family that has gone through two World Wars including the Pacific War. Therefore you shall not be surprised to find a broken antique vase next to a damaged fan depicting Asian motifs in one or another elegant salon at Villa Freischütz.

Even though storing loads of boxes that contain precious objects from the family’s collections, the team of curators decided to demonstrate an authentic selection integrated in a genuine reconstruction of the former living spaces. According to Herta Waldner, president of the Foundation Navarini-Ugarte, the Fromm family used to live in a very “wild yet artistic way” which can be seen on some old photographs too.

They used to adorn their rooms with some five or six expensive rugs, a vast amount of paintings (sometimes you would not even recognize the wallpaper anymore) and even more fancy pieces of furniture. Those items have been brought by far countries, as the family used to travel around Europe and also South of America such as Peru.

Franz Fromm, initiator and founder of the art collection, was an aristocratic businessman who moved to Merano for health reasons with his family in 1905 where he later bought the Villa Freischütz, which was built in the year of 1909. The villa became the new home for his family as well as for his passionately collected pieces of art. 

Thanks to Franz Fromm’s grandchild Rosamaria Navarini the collection was preserved until today. She spent almost all her life in Villa Freischütz. In her testament she decreed that her grandfather’s treasures should be made accessible to the public in a museum at Villa Freischütz. For this reason she established the Foundation Navarini-Ugarte. Since 2013 the members of the foundation board work towards fulfilling Rosamaria Navarini’s will and dream.

The villa itself is considered a typical building of the “Golden Age” of Meran – Merano and contains a varied valuable collection of rather unique arts and crafts reminiscent of the so-called “Wunderkammer”. 

The original Chambers of Art and Wonders of the Renaissance were encyclopaedic, universal collections that attempted to reflect the entire knowledge of the day. Particularly desirable were unique, rare, unusual, and precious objects. The term Kunst- und Wunderkammer goes back to the Ambras collection of Archduke Ferdinand II. Similar to the Habsburg collection,

Similarly Franz Fromm’s rarities show an enormous interest in cabinet cupboards made of precious materials such as marble or ivory, silver objects, bronze sculptures, opulent glass, wooden objects, Chinese porcelain vases and last but not least masterful paintings such as a small portrait by Anthony Van Dyck.  Another specialty in his collection is theater costumes. Those costumes were used to dress up and then take photographs of the entire family as you can see in the image below (somehow like Instagram is working nowadays).

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While it’s heavily snowing outside, Herta passionately tells me that the collection of the Prussian-born Fromm is strongly informed by Historism. Typical for such collections are the turning to ancient art, a mixture of different historical styles and a combination of fine arts and arts and crafts. Fromm’s collection comprises, among other things, display cabinets and other precious pieces of furniture, miniature paintings and oil paintings with still lifes, with battle scenes or religious motifs, sacral sculptures and Asian artefacts, valuable fabrics and snuffboxes.  

Modern pieces mainly found their way into the collection via personal contact. Thus, the works of German painter Ellen Tornquist, who was a friend of family Fromm, are a highlight of the Villa Freischütz collection. The collection also contains many works by the German painter Georg Greve-Lindau, whom Fromm’s daughter Zoila married. 

The inhabitants of Villa Freischütz lived with and among the beautiful, interesting and also bizarre things. Indeed, the Fromm family and their employees were living in a museum at their time already – but it was a living museum where people dined and made music, where they laughed and argued. 

In fact you will agree that Villa Freischütz is nothing like an academic museum but rather the very intimate home of a family with an extravagant art taste and elapsed charm that can still be felt in every corner of the villa. Even in the modern year of 2019.

Find out more about Villa Freischütz here and support the ongoing restoration projects at Villa Freischütz here.

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