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Cartographica Helvetica


Theme: Maurice Borel (1860–1926): cartographer from Neuchâtel

Cartographica Helvetica 61 (2020)


In 2017, volume nr. 134 of the series La Nouvelle Revue neuchâteloise (NRN) was published under the title Maurice Borel (1860–1926), Cartographe. Being aware that this extraordinary and talented cartographer was not well-known in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, we decided to use this issue as an outline for our own publication. The authors Marcel Garin (Gorgier) and Maurice Evard (Neuchâtel) were inspired by this project and supported us in obtaining the required originals and background information, which had in the meantime been relocated at the State Archives of Neuchâtel (Archives de l'État de Neuchâtel) by the «Association de L'Aristoloche» (formerly «Fondation du Moulin de Bevaix»).

Maurice Borel was born on March 28, 1860 and died on May 15, 1926. His father already had three sons Alfred, Adolphe and Antoine from his first marriage. These three brothers were very successful businessmen and operated a trading company in the USA, supporting their half-brother financially most of his life. Maurice Borel learned his trade as lithographer from 1879 to 1882 at the «Geographische Anstalt von Wurster, Randegger & Cie.» in Winterthur. At the end of 1882, he traveled to Paris where a recommendation from his former employer was helpful in finding a position at the «Établissement géographique Erhard frères».

On September 17, 1884, Maurice married Bertha Reinhart, the daughter of the owner of the guesthouse where he had lodged in Winterthur. She was a talented floral artist who, among other works, had illustrated two books. In 1884, the first of four children was born in Paris, and later on, four more children were born in Neuchâtel.

Around 1888, Maurice Borel established his own lithography workshop at his home address at Avenue d'Orléans 19 in Paris. Almost at the same time, his former employer Johannes Randegger had considered transferring his company in Winterthur to Maurice Borel. However, due to financial reasons, his poor knowledge of the German language, and also to a lack of self-confidence required to run such a reputed company, Borel decided to forego this offer.

1889, in addition to his French contracts, he created a map of the Canton of Neuchâtel (Carte du Canton de Neuchâtel) at the scale 1:50,000 in four sheets using the data of the Topographischer Atlas der Schweiz 1:25,000. Based on this map, he developed a four-part relief model. Furthermore, he issued a school wall map at the same scale and format a year later.

In mid-1893, Maurice Borel decided to return to Switzerland where he founded a new workshop in Neuchâtel. Besides maps, he also produced panoramas and additional relief models, notably those showing regions in his surroundings such as the Creux-du-Van and the Gorges de l'Areuse. His standing occupation was his cooperation on the Geographisches Lexikon der Schweiz (German and French editions, 6 volumes, 1902–1910) for which all of the maps were created at his workshop. The original engraving and color lithography on stone was replaced by the technique on zinc plates (zincography), and successively by enlarged drawings separated by color which were then reduced photographically to the final scale.

His great passion, however, had always been archeology, the search for remains of the pile dwellings along the shores of the Lac de Neuchâtel, which had come to light mainly thanks to the Jura water correction (1868–1891). In 1907 he became president of the excavation commission and continued mapping their discoveries until his death in 1926.

Translation by Christine Studer

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