Anna Waser was born in Zurich, Switzerland circa 1675, to Johann Rudolf Waser and Esther Muller. Her family was wealthy and esteemed, as Johann was a magistrate. She had four older siblings, including sisters who were also interested in the arts. Johann encouraged Anna’s artistic endeavors, bringing her first to John Sulzer to learn painting and later, once she couldn’t learn any more from him to celebrated Swiss painter Joseph Werner in Bern. She boarded with Werner’s family, among several other students, while she learned from him.
Anna studied with Werner for four years, until circa 1699, then began to work from her family home in Zurich, painting commissioned portraits for her large number of friends and acquaintances. She had gained for herself by this time a positive reputation and drew the attention of a patron of the arts, Count Wilhelm Moritz von Solms-Braunfels. He invited her to work as a court painter for him in Hesse.
However, it was at this time that Anna’s mother became ill and Anna’s brother, also Johann Rudolf, traveled away from home for his military work. This left Anna responsible for caring for her mother, meaning that she would not be able to accept the position in her patron’s court.
During her time caring for her parents and their home, Anna painted less frequently and took up landscape painting, which was popular at the time. Together with her two sisters, Anna Mary and Elizabeth, who were graphic artists, she developed her own calligraphic typeset and began work on an autobiography. Unfortunately, like many of her paintings, this autobiography has been lost to time, although we know that it was finished and sent to a publisher. Anna died in 1714 after suffering a fall, although she reportedly had been of failing health before this.
Today, Anna Waser is considered a sort of child prodigy. Her most famous work, “Self-portrait, age twelve”, shows a remarkable skill for someone of her age. Her works that do survive are highly regarded. While famous in her lifetime and named as one of the many great contemporary artists, Anna’s family kept her memory alive and allowed her to be known down to the modern-day. Maria Krebs wrote a biography of Anna (“The Story of Anna Waser”), published in 1913, which she was inspired to write after marrying into the Waser family and hearing about Anna.
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