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Fondation Beyeler – Among Switzerland’s Most Visited Museums

Last Updated on October 2, 2023 by Darla Uhl

Switzerland’s most visited art museum, Fondation Beyeler was founded by Swiss collectors and philanthropists Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. Basel-born art collector Ernst Beyeler created the foundation with his wife to showcase the private collection he accumulated over his career, valued at US$1.85 billion at his death.

Fondation Beyeler is a modern and contemporary art museum set in a lush garden surrounded by trees and a small pond. Taking in all the art in this museum is a pleasure thanks to its sleek white decor, high ceilings, and room to move around. Located in Reihen, it is a 25-minute tram ride from the city center of Basel, Switzerland.

Fondation Beyeler: The Beginnings

Image of Fondation Beyeler by TouringSwitzerland.com

Ernst Beyeler got his shop after he bought an old antique store from Oskar Schloss. Over time, he started selling more art. In 1952, they renamed the antiquarian bookshop Galerie Beyeler.  His collection was built up over the course of 50 years in business.

Art dealers Ernst and Hildy Beyeler were invited by Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid in 1989 to show their collection of paintings and sculptures. Public and media response to the collection was so good that they received offers to display it elsewhere (New York, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany). The National Gallery in Berlin, Germany would eventually exhibit their collection in 1996/1997. Following positive feedback, they decided to start a foundation and build a museum.

Ernst and Hildy Beyeler were at the right place and at the right time. They were able to secure land around La Roche-Areal, a place called Berowergut. However, despite signing a contract with Basel City and Riehen, they still had to pass a referendum in Reihen. Thankfully, the Reihen community decided to support Ernst and Hildy Beyeler’s plans. The compulsory referendum passed and this allowed them to build their own museum.  

Ernst Beyeler has collected works by Swiss artists such as Auberjonois, Gubler, Berger, and Hodler. In 1951, he had paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Gaugin, and Bonnard. 1987, he sold a Picasso Souvenir du Havre for US$10.25 million at an auction. The year after, his gallery bought Cézanne’s Arlequin for 11 million Swiss Francs and Picasso’s Tete de femme for 10 million Swiss Francs. 


Fondation Beyeler: The Building

One of the inner rooms at Fondation Beyeler by TouringSwitzerland.com

This project started when they obtained a beautiful piece of land in Riehen, Basel. Art dealers Ernst and Hildy Beyeler commissioned Renzo Piano to design a museum that houses their private collection.

Renzo Piano is an Italian architect who designed a ton of famous buildings, including the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, The Shard in London, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City. Also, he’s worked on Zentrum Paul Klee in Bern, Switzerland, a museum dedicated to the Swiss-born German artist Paul Klee. 

The Fondation Beyeler building was designed to be woven seamlessly into nature and maximize light. A wall of red porphyry sourced from Patagonia shields it from the noise of the busy street to the east. From the building grounds, you can see the wide fields and trees over the Tülliger Hill in Germany together with the St. Ottilien Church.

Fondation Beyeler Museum opened on October 18, 1997, in Riehen, Switzerland.

To filter light and control light incidence, the roof is made up of a steel profile and support grid. It also protects from damp and temperature fluctuations. The elongated building is designed to be unobtrusive; it’s meant to be in harmony with the landscape as well. There are two outer room corridors and three inner spatial corridors. A lot of spatial relationships and figures can be made with this setup. 


Fondation Beyeler Collection

Claude Monet’s Waterlily Painting as taken at Fondation Beyeler by TouringSwitzerland.com

While Switzerland is known for its public art museums and fine private collections, Basel is generally seen as the cultural capital. Fondation Beyeler, near Basel, has an ambitious program of events, a significant collection of contemporary and modern art, and high-quality exhibitions.

Fondation Beyeler Collection features work by the following artists: Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat, Georges Braque, Piet Mondrian, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Alberto Giacometti. He also has works from Mark Rothko, Mark Tobey, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol.

Claude Monet’s enormous waterlily painting is the museum’s highlight. Monet’s lily pond in Giverny comes to life under the natural light of this space.  Near the waterlily painting are two others by Claude Monet, both exquisite, albeit smaller.

There are temporary exhibition stages at the Fondation Beyeler Museum, complementing the permanent collection. During my visit, I got to see paintings by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian. He is regarded as one of the best artists of the 20th century, a pioneer of abstract art.


How to Get to Fondation Beyeler

An assortment of art books at Fondation Beyeler by TouringSwitzerland.com

The city tram is the best way to get to Fondation Beyeler. The bus is another option, though. Near the museum is a parking lot, but it gets packed pretty fast. 

By TramRiehen, Fondation Beyeler
By BusRiehen, Webergässchen (5-minute walk)
Riehen, Hinter Gärten (7-minute walk)
By CarParkhaus Zentrum
Baselstrasse 70, 4125 Riehen

Final Thoughts: Fondation Beyeler

Piet Mondrian’s Windmill as taken at Fondation Beyeler by TouringSwitzerland.com

While Ernst and Hildy Beyeler passed away, there is a beautiful legacy they left – the Fondation Beyeler Museum.

Ernst Beyeler has been a respected art dealer for decades, and he has also proved his credentials as a museum curator even before opening his own museum. Located in Riehen near Basel, Switzerland, Fondation Beyeler is a world-class art museum.

That Ernst Beyeler wanted to leave his collection open to the public at the end of his remarkable career is incredible. You should definitely check out Fondation Beyeler if you are in Switzerland, France, or Germany. The place is amazing.


Resources

  • Beyeler, Ernst. Ein Geschenk nicht nur für Basel: Die Fondation Beyeler in Riehen. Akzent: Magazin für Kultur und Gesellschaft. August 1998.
  • Hubeli, Ernst. Auch technisch: Museum Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel ; Architekt : Renzo Piano mit B. Plattner, L. Couton, Paris. Werk, Bauen + Wohnen. January/February 1998.
  • Ryser, Werner. Im Gespräch mit Ernst Beyeler: Die Schönheit verpflichtet. Akzent: Magazin für Kultur und Gesellschaft. Februar 2006 .

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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.

Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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