Ernst Beyeler – the founder of Art Basel
Ernst Beyeler (16 July 1921 – 25 February 2010) was a Swiss trader and collector, who became “Europe’s pre-eminent dealer in modern
art”, consistent with The ny Times, and “the greatest trader since the war”, consistent with The Daily Telegraph. In 1982, he and his wife founded the
Beyeler was born in Basel, Switzerland, on 16 July 1921, the son of an employee of Swiss railways. He received his advanced education at the University of Basel where he studied humanistic discipline and economics.
Beyeler originally intended to become an economist, but the outbreak of the Second war prevented him from leaving Switzerland and instead he became apprenticed to Oskar Schloss, an antiquarian bookseller in Basel. When Schloss died in 1945, Beyeler took over the firm at age 24. He gradually moved into art dealing and had his first exhibition, of Japanese woodcuts, just two years later.
A key development in his career was the acquisition within the early 1960s of 340 art works from the American banker, industrialist and art collector G. David Thompson. the gathering included works by Braque , Cezanne , Paul Klee, Léger, Matisse , Monet , Picasso , and Mondrian. Beyeler bought 70 works by Giacometti from Thompson which were divided between the Kunsthaus Zürich, the Basel Kunstmuseum and therefore the Kunstmuseum Winterthur. consistent with the Pittsburgh Quarterly, the “decision to not build a Thompson building clearly made Beyeler’s fortune, and ironically, it’s Beyeler who features a museum containing his collection and bearing his name in Basel, Switzerland.”
Beyeler developed “close relationships with many of the 20 th century’s great artists”. He became friends with Picasso within the 1950s and when he visited Mougins in 1966, Picasso allowed him to settle on 26 paintings to sell.
In 1973, the US$180,000 he purchased Willem de Kooning’s abstract landscape Police Gazette set a replacement record for the artist, as did the US$14.7 million he paid in 1989 for Fernand Léger’s cubist painting Forms in Contrast. His collection was eventually worth a minimum of CHF 2 billion (£1.21 billion). In 2010, The Washington Post reported that his collection was “worth a minimum of $1.85 billion”.
In 1982, along side his wife, fellow trader Hilda “Hildy” Kunz, he founded the Beyeler Foundation to showcase his private collection.
In 1948, Beyeler married Hilda “Hildy” Kunz (1922–2008), incorrectly reported within the Daily Telegraph as “Kunst” (the German for “art”).
Beyeler died on 25 February 2010, at his home near Basel. He had no children.
In their obituaries of Beyeler, The ny Times called him “Europe’s pre-eminent dealer in modern art”, and therefore the Daily Telegraph described him as “the greatest trader since the war”, who “assembled one among the world’s most impressive collections of 20th-century paintings”.