Erni Burr

Actor Raymond Burr, right, admired and collected the art of Hans Erni, left, and joined in the celebration of Erni’s Sport Artist of the Year Award, Painter, in 1988, at the United States Sports Academy.

DAPHNE, Ala. – A year has come and gone since the world lost one of its most gifted artists who perfected his craft over more than a century of life. At age 106 the great Hans Erni passed, but behind he left a legacy that will be forever enjoyed.

The United States Sports Academy’s 1988 Sport Artist of the Year, Painter, and the artistic pride of Lucerne, Switzerland, Erni inspired millions during his lifetime and his work continues to do so today, just over a year since his passing on 21 March 2015.

A pioneer of the abstract expressionist movement, Erni’s work re-shaped the familiar and the real with the intention of expression. The results were colorful works reflecting reality while vibrantly conveying movement, vitality, energy and action. He often painted briskly, with quick strokes, adding further energy to his works.

“What is happening today is full of content and cannot be conceived by a play of colors without form, or by forms without meaning,” Erni said. “Let us have the courage for continuity of meaning in painting, for balanced humanity and tradition.


“Painting is not passive. It strives to convince and it testifies,” he said. “The responsibility of art is to describe the world and science through the realistic skills of illustration.

“He who combines practicality with pleasure wins all the votes.”

This philosophy guided Erni to create the realistic yet mythical art for which he is renowned, and made him particularly adept at capturing the energy, color and movement of sport, which earned him the Academy’s Sport Artist of the Year Award, Painter, in 1988. The award is presented to an individual who captures the spirit and life of sport so that future generations can relive the drama of today’s competition.

Forty-five of his works are in the collection of the Academy’s American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA), depicting a wide range of sports including American football, archery, basketball, bobsled, boxing, skiing, cycling, equestrian, fencing, hockey, figure skating, gymnastics, judo, kayaking, luge, rowing, shooting, soccer, swimming, tennis, relay, volleyball, weight lifting, yachting and many others. His works at the Academy also include pieces celebrating the Olympic Games.

“Olympic Summer Games”

Born in Lucerne, Switzerland, in 1909, Erni studied art in France and Berlin and admired artists including Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, taking inspiration from their cubist work. After working in commercial art and participating in numerous exhibitions, Erni achieved international acclaim for his 300-foot mural, “Switzerland, the Holiday Destination of the Nations” for the 1939 Swiss National Exhibition in Zurich. With the onset of World War II, Erni’s art career went on hold while he served as a driver in the Swiss Army Motorized Corps.

After the war, Erni resumed an amazing and prolific career that would take him well into a new millennium, producing paintings, frescos, mosaics, tapestries, graphics, theatrical costumes, exhibitions and commissions for the likes of the World Health Organization and the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. Erni produced numerous works for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) including a mural, “Olympia – Myth and Reality,” for the IOC session hall in Lausanne, Switzerland; an Olympic Gold Medal in 1992; and exhibitions at several Olympic events. He was presented with the Olympic Medal for the Arts in 1992 by the IOC Cultural Commission.


Erni, who was often called the “Swiss Picasso,” designed more than 90 stamps for Switzerland and the United Nations during his career. His monolithic murals, posters and collection of stamps rallied a worldwide following. Proud of its native artist, the city of Lucerne became host to the Hans Erni Foundation in 1977 and two years later became home to the Hans Erni Museum, dedicated exclusively to his work.

Erni retained an impressive work ethic and energy that allowed him to continue to paint into his latest years. In 2009, at the age of 100, Erni completed a 90-foot ceramic fresco that decorates the entrance to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Doves feature prominently in the design and Erni told journalists he hoped it would inspire people working at the UN “to think about peace” each time they passed it.

“Hans Erni truly captured the essence of sport in his painting and for that reason was one of the earliest artists to win the Academy’s Sport Artist of the Year Award,” said Academy President Emeritus Dr. Thomas P. Rosandich, who founded the Academy and ASAMA.


“We are all fortunate that he was able to work well beyond the century mark and leave an artistic legacy that inspires people all over the world.”

The United States Sports Academy is an independent, non-profit, regionally accredited, special mission Sports University created to serve the nation and world with programs in instruction, research, and service. The role of the Academy is to prepare men and women for careers in the profession of sports. For more information about the Academy, call (251) 626-3303 or visit

The Academy is home to the American Sport Art Museum and Archives (ASAMA). Founded in 1984, ASAMA is dedicated to the preservation of sports art, history, and literature. The ASAMA collection is composed of nearly 2,000 works of sport art across a variety of media, including paintings, sculptures, assemblages, prints and photographs. The museum is open free to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. For more information, go to or visit to see more of Erni’s work.