A century full of memories

A century ago, on 16 July 1921, the founder of the Fondation Beyeler was born. As one of the leading gallery owners of his time, he and his wife Hildy built one of the world's most important modern art collections. This collection has been housed in the Fondation Beyeler since 1997, which was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano. As a co-founder of Art Basel, Ernst Beyeler made a significant contribution to the international reputation of Basel as a city of culture.

If his life were a fairy tail, it would beginn like this: Once upon a time there was an antiquitarian bookshop in Basel called "Librairie du Château d’Art". It belonged to a man called Oskar Schloss and Ernst Beyeler worked there as a student apprentice. When the former suddenly passed away in the year 1945, the 24-year old Ernst took over the space in the Bäumleingasse 9. Soon Ernst came up with the idea that he could also sell art in his newly acquired shop and so, in 1947, he covered the book cases with sheets and presented his first exhibition which was compiled of Japanese wood prints. By 1950, all the books had disappeared from the shelves and the antiquitarian bookshop was transformed into a gallery that presented works by Picasso, Bonnard, Degas, Renoir and Matisse. What followed was indeed fairytale-like: Ernst's gallery became world-famous, and he himself became one of the most successful art dealers of his time. A foundation was set up and finally the Fondation Beyeler was built to make art accessible to a broad public.

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1921 Ernst Beyeler is born as a son of a railway worker in Basel.
1938 Business studies and studies in economics and art history at the University of Basel. At the same time, assistant in the antiquarian bookshop "La Librairie du Château d'Art" of Oskar Schloss at Bäumleingasse 9, Basel.
1945 Acquisition of antiquarian bookshop from Oskar Schloss.
1948 Marriage to Hilda «Hildy» Beyeler-Kunz (* 14. Juli 1922 in Basel), who helps her new husband a great deal when starting the gallery. 
1951 From this year on, continual  exhibition activity with a focus on classical modernism. In total, Ernst Beyeler organised around 300 exhibitions in his lifetime.
1970 Co-founder of the international art fair Art Basel, whose successful development he helped to shape for 25 years.
1980 Initiator and organiser of the exhibition "Sculpture in the 20th Century" in Wenkenpark, Riehen.
1982 Transfer of the art collection compiled by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler to the Beyeler Foundation.
1985 &
Appointed "Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the French Ministry of Culture and Dr.h.c.phil.I of the University of Basel.
1989 First presentation of the Beyeler Collection at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid; in the following years further presentations would follow in the "Neuen Nationalgalerie", Berlin, and at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.
1997 Inauguration of the Fondation Beyeler in Riehen/Basel, with Ernst Beyeler serving as director and president. The building that was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano was financed by Ernst and Hildy Beyeler.
2001 Founding of "Kunst für den Tropenwald" (eng. "Art for Tropical Forests).
2010 Ernst Beyeler dies on 25 Februar at the age of 88. Hildy died two years earlier at the age of 86.

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Fotos u.a. Kurt Wyss, Basel

Find out more about Ernst Beyeler

"Ernst Beyeler. A Passion for Art"
A life with and for art

Between November 2002 and February 2003, Christophe Mory conducted a series of recorded interviews with Ernst Beyeler. These conversations subsequently became the basis of this book. The result is a fascinating biography addressed at a wide readership, one that brings us much closer to the glittering figure of Ernst Beyeler.

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Catalogues from the Galerie Beyeler epoch

Ernst Beyeler never lost his love of fine books. In line with the Beyelers’ high standards when it came to art, each exhibition at the Galerie Beyeler was accompanied by a high-quality, carefully designed and prepared catalogue. A few copies of some of these original catalogues still survive and are available to purchase.

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"Renzo Piano. Fondation Beyeler"
From drawing board to art space

In his essay, Renzo Piano gives us a very personal account of the design process and reveals how closely Ernst Beyeler was involved in the planning. Piano takes us all the way through the building of the museum, from initial ideas and sketches, through the practical challenges of construction, to the inauguration of the Fondation Beyeler.

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