The mushrooms of Hans Walty: a feast for the eyes and the palate

Hans Walty created several hundred watercolour illustrations of mushrooms from 1913 to 1944. These drawings adorn the pages of Schweizer Pilztafeln, a multi-volume field guide for mushrooms that helped the general public to distinguish between poisonous and edible varieties. The guide was published in multiple editions and languages by the Verband Schweizerischer Vereine für Pilzkunde.

By Christina Gerber

Walty Reizker
“Guter Reizker, essbar”, watercolour drawing by Hans Walty, 1917-18

June to October is mushroom season in the culinary world, with restaurants advertising creations such as porcino risotto, sauteed mushroom salad and bread dumplings with chanterelles in cream sauce. If you try to recreate these dishes at home, you’ll need not only the requisite cooking skills, but also a certain level of knowledge about mushrooms. Collecting your own mushrooms in the forest is a must if you don’t want to limit yourself to what’s available at the supermarket. 

Nowadays there are apps that can help us distinguish edible mushrooms from their poisonous counterparts. Some foragers have amassed enough expertise to go it alone, while others rely on field guides to help them select the right mushrooms. 

500 watercolours of domestic mushroom species

In Hans Walty’s era, there were neither mushroom apps nor handy popular science field guides for mushroom hunters. Since Walty himself had a great deal of expertise in mushrooms, he dedicated himself to the task of creating over 500 watercolour depictions of domestic mushrooms species from 1913 to 1944. 

His images depict the colours and shapes of the mushrooms’ fruiting bodies and sometimes also include drawings of microscopic views. The fungi are usually depicted from the side and often from the top and bottom as well. Walty also frequently documented the characteristics of the stems, spores and undersides of the caps. The hobby mycologist also produced an explanatory book to accompany his illustrations that contains descriptions of the mushrooms, with each specimen being assigned a family and genus. His illustrations often contain notes about the time and date the mushroom was found and whether it was edible, inedible or poisonous.

Mushroom guides for the public

From 1942 to 1975, Walty’s drawings were published by the Verband Schweizerischer Vereine für Pilzkunde with the aim of producing a mushroom field guide for practical use. Initially referred to as “Schweizer Pilztafeln für den praktischen Pilzsammler”, five volumes of this work were produced in multiple editions from the 1940s through the 1970s.

Walty Band
Two-page spread from Volume 1 of “Schweizer Pilztafeln für den praktischen Pilzsammler”, a guide to collecting Swiss mushrooms from 1942

The first three volumes are illustrated with selections from Walty’s mushroom watercolours. To help aspiring mushroom foragers in all of Switzerland’s language regions, the multi-volume guide was translated into French in 1947 and into Italian around 20 years later.

Awakening appreciation for mushrooms

“Schweizer Pilztafeln” served as a reliable guide for the general public from the 1940s to the 1970s, helping non-specialists successfully hunt for mushrooms and tell the difference between poisonous and edible varieties. 

Walty Mordschwamm
“Mordschwamm, giftig”, watercolour mushroom illustration by Hans Walty, 1918

While the guides no longer reflect the current state of scientific knowledge, Walty’s illustrations still retain their significance: such a wide variety of systematic mushroom illustrations – lovingly coloured and rendered with great precision and attention to detail – is truly one of a kind. The journal “Schweizerische Zeitschrift für Pilzkunde” honoured Hans Walty in 1948 thusly: “Hans Walty combined his meticulous knowledge of mushrooms with his excellent technical skills as a painter to create lifelike illustrations of mushrooms that bring joy to the hearts of every mycologist."

Even though 75 years have passed, Walty’s mushroom illustrations continue to be a feast for the eyes. Perhaps they can also inspire you to take a stroll through the forest and collect some mushrooms for your next meal?

Hans Walty was born in Gravellona in the Piedmont in 1868 and died in Zihlschlacht in 1948. In 1878 he moved to Lenzburg and attended the elementary and secondary schools, later attending the cantonal school in Aarau. He completed his studies at the School of Applied Arts in Basel. 1888: Relocation to Leipzig, where he worked in a studio for decorative painting. 1893: Marriage and appointment to the School of Applied Arts in Zurich. 1901: Took up a post at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts; later became a self-employed artist and church painter in Leipzig. 1919: Returned to Lenzburg, working as a drawing instructor at the secondary school from 1921 to 1932. Conducted mushroom research in his free time. 1923: Verein für Pilzkunde published Walty’s first illustrations. 1942: Publication of the first volume of “Schweizer Pilztafeln”; the second and third volumes, complete with Walty’s illustrations, appeared in 1944 and 1947.Around 500 of Walty’s watercolour illustrations are housed in the Hans Walty archive within the Prints and Drawings Department of the Swiss National Library and have been fully catalogued and digitised.

Bibliography and sources

Last modification 26.09.2023

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