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Warja Lavater

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Warja Lavater
Warja Lavater

28 September 1913
Died3 May 2007 (aged 93)
Zurich, Switzerland
EducationGraphic arts
Known forArtists' Books
MovementModernism, Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts

Warja Lavater (28 September 1913 – 3 May 2007) was born in Winterthur, Switzerland. She was a Swiss artist and illustrator noted primarily for working in the artist's books genre by creating accordion fold books that re-tell classic fairy tales with symbols rather than words (or even pictures).[1][2]

Personal life[edit]

Three keys logo by Warja Lavater.[3]
Logo for Swiss International Exhibition of 1939 by Warja Lavater.[4]

Lavater spent the first nine years of her life in Moscow and Athens. In 1922, her mother (the author Mary Lavater-Sloman) and father (Emil Lavater, an engineer) settled the family back in Winterthur. After attending High School, Lavater studied graphic arts in Zurich from 1931 to 1935 at the Fachklasse für Grafik an der Kunstgewerbeschule Grafik (School of Applied Arts). It was here, in 1932, she began studying under Ernst Keller in a class of 28 of which 7 were women. Later in life, Lavater recalled this training:

What we were learning was design, and so we began with the most important thing, drawing. Where do you put a sign in a rectangle? What is the standard solution to this exercise? Should the strongest element be the sign or the drawing? How can both be distinguished at a distance, yet integrated in a composition? [5]

Studying in Stockholm, Basel, and Paris, she opened her own studio for applied design in Zurich in 1937 with Gottfried Honegger, her future husband. It was here that Lavater embarked on her first profession as a designer of symbols, logos, and trademarks. Among her initial creations were the three keys logo of the Schweizerischen Bankverein (Swiss Bank Corporation- which is now used by its successor, Swiss global financial services company UBS AG)[3] and the logo for the Swiss National Exhibition of 1939.[4]

After marrying Honegger in 1940, she bore two daughters: Bettina (1943) and Cornelia (1944).

From 1944 to 1958 she worked extensively with the young person's magazine Jeunesse designing the covers, supplying illustrations, and being responsible for typography.[6]

Moving to New York City in 1958, she began designing scientific illustrations for Dell Publishing Visual series. It was during this early period in New York that Honegger-Lavater became influenced by American street advertising and began to utilize pictograms as graphic representations of linguistic elements in her work. In 1962, the New York City Museum of Modern Art published her William Tell as a single sheet lithograph, accordion folded in the "Leporello" style,[7] with a legend listing the meanings of the various symbols (e.g., a single blue dot represents William Tell). The story proceeds chronologically as the book unfolds, and is told entirely by using the symbols without words. She produced a growing number of similar works throughout the rest of her career.

By 1995 she was creating videos of colors and symbols moving across a screen, set to music.

At the time of her death she was retired and residing outside of Zurich. She is interred at the Fluntern Cemetery in Zürich.[8]

Her artistic estate is held by the Zürich Central Library.[9]

Honegger-Lavater was a direct descendant of the Swiss poet and physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater.[10]

Early work in artists' books[edit]

Lavater's William Tell and Edward Ruscha's book Twentysix Gasoline Stations were both published in 1962 (though in later editions Ruscha's copyright is given as 1963). Ruscha's book has been cited by some as the first modern artist's book,[11] though there were actually several other artists working with the book form at the same time. This claim can now be contested noting that Lavater's work, as well as that of another Swiss-German artist, Dieter Roth, preceded Ruscha.

Starting in 1963, the Paris-based publisher Adrien Maeght began publication of a series of her folding books broadly entitled Imageries. These books consist of classic fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, and Hans Christian Andersen. These were also done as accordion folded books with stories told using symbols rather than written language.

Educational influence[edit]

Lavater's work has been used by educators in the areas of artistic development and literacy. The National Library of France has encouraged children to explore artistic expression using the techniques created by Lavater.[12] Faculty at the University of Erfurt have produced two pedagogical guides for teaching literacy and creativity to young children using Lavater's version of the classic fairy tale, Snow White (Schneewittchen) [13] and the German fairy tale Hans in Luck (Hans im Glück).[14]



Surgeon, 14th Century from 2300 years of medical costume (1962) by Warja Honegger-Lavater.
  • 2300 years of medical costume : distinctive garb of the medical and related professions from the time of Hippocrates to the Napoleonic era. North Chicago, Ill. : Abbott Laboratories, 1962 (OCLC 5734427)
  • Chacun sa chimère : sept eaux-fortes; Portfolio with 5 signed dry point etchings combined with color lithography. Paris : A. Maeght, 1984. (OCLC 80256726)



Poster for Imageries de Warja Lavater, 1995.
  • Les Imageries, 6 digital animation films, Paris : IRCAM, 1995
  • Design : Warja Lavater based on the work of Charles Perrault
  • Graphics Production : Mac Guff Ligne
  • Composer : Pierre Charvet


  • Liedli für Mutter und Kind für eine Singstimme und Klavier (co-composed with Gustav Kugler), Zollikon-Zürich :; Sämann-Verlag, 1944 (OCLC 82351484)




  1. ^ Honegger-Lavater, Warja. "Snow White". Maeght. Retrieved 2008-10-01.
  2. ^ "Création graphique à la manière de Warja Lavater". Retrieved 2008-10-01.
  3. ^ a b Evamy, Michael (2007). Logo. London, U.K.: Laurence King Pub. Ltd. pp. 304–305. "The UBS mark was originally created for the Swiss Bank Corporation in 1937 by a Swiss illustrator, Warja Lavater, fresh out of Zürich's School of applied art."
  4. ^ a b Hollis, Richard (2006). Swiss graphic design : the origins and growth of an international style, 1920-1965 (1st ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-300-10676-9. OCLC 65221958."Although the first prize in the competition for a symbol . . . was won by Herman Eidenbenz, Warja Honegger-Lavater's design was selected for use. The four rings were intended to represent trade, light industry, heavy industry, and agriculture."
  5. ^ Hollis, Richard (2006). Swiss graphic design : the origins and growth of an international style, 1920-1965 (1st ed.). New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-300-10676-9. OCLC 65221958.
  6. ^ "Warja Lavater". Nieves Catalogue. Archived from the original on 11 August 2016. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  7. ^ Aitken, Michael. "The Leporello and Lorne: A Personal Story". Archived from the original on 23 October 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  8. ^ "Friedhof Fluntern - Gräber von prominenten Verstorbenen (PDF)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 9 March 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  9. ^ "Search results for Warja Lavater at the Zurich Central Library". Retrieved 5 October 2010.
  10. ^ Solomon, Julie (November 1994). "The Faces of Physiognomy: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Johann Caspar Lavater by Ellis Shookman (Review)". South Atlantic Review. 59 (4). South Atlantic Modern Language Association: 140. doi:10.2307/3201372. ISSN 0277-335X. JSTOR 3201372. OCLC 7142213.
  11. ^ The Century of Artist's Books, Drucker, Granary, 2004 p11
  12. ^ Bibliothèque nationale de France. "Création graphique à la manière de Warja Lavater". Retrieved 23 September 2010.
  13. ^ Plath, Monika; Richter, Karen (2006). Die Bildwelten der Warja Lavater "Schneewittchen" Modelle und Materialien für den Literaturunterricht (Klasse 1 bis Klasse 5). Baltmannsweiler : Schneider-Verl. Hohengehren. ISBN 978-3-89676-958-9.
  14. ^ Plath, Monika; Richter, Karen (2015). Hans im Glück : in Bildern von Warja Lavater. Baltmannsweiler : Schneider-Verl. Hohengehren. ISBN 978-3-83401-439-9.
  15. ^ Beckett, Sandra (2002). Recycling Red Riding Hood (1st ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 61. ISBN 0-415-93000-6. OCLC 49584099. Retrieved 2008-09-20.
  16. ^ International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) (1992). Hans Christian Andersen Award Nominees 1992. IBBY. p. 27.


  • Biography (French Language)
  • "Warja Lavater". SIKART Lexicon on art in Switzerland.
  • Biography (German Language) via Galerie Brigitte Weiss
  • Beckett, Sandra L. "Artists' books for a cross-audience - Warja Lavater" IN Studies in children's literature, 1500-2000, Dublin ; Portland, OR : Four Courts, 2004, pp. 163–166 (OCLC 56361783)
  • Carmin, Jim. "Warja Honegger-Lavater exhibition (Multnomah County Library)" IN BOOK_ARTS@LISTERV.SYR.EDU, Portland, OR, May 12, 2001
  • Kushner, Robert. "Review of Exhibitions - Warja Lavater at the Swiss Institute" IN Art in America vol. 85, no. 4 (April 1997), p. 122
  • Lavater, Warja. "Perception: When Signs Start to Communicate" IN The Faces of physiognomy : interdisciplinary approaches to Johann Caspar Lavater. Edited by Ellis Shookman. Columbia, SC : Camden House, 1993. pp. 182–187. (OCLC 28669014)
  • Mallarte-Feldman, Claire. "Folk Materials, Re-Visions, and Narrative Images: The Intertextual Games They Play" IN Children's Literature Association Quarterly Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2003. p. 215. E-ISSN 1553-1201 Print ISSN 0885-0429
  • Moholy, Lucia. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions - Switzerland" IN Burlington Magazine vol. 105, no. 719 (February 1963), p. 85
  • IRCAM (search for single term: Lavater)
  • Plath, Monika and Richter, Karen. Die Bildwelten der Warja Lavater "Schneewittchen" : Modelle und Materialien für den Literaturunterricht. Baltmannsweiler : Schneider-Verl. Hohengehren, 2006. OCLC 71345203)

External links[edit]