Ernst Beyeler (1921-2010) a real connaisseur of art, is regarded as one of the most important art dealers after 1945.
Born in Basel, Switzerland, where he studied economics and art history, he intended to become an economist, but the war changed his plans. In 1940 he became an apprenticed to Oskar Schloss, an antiquarian bookseller in Basel. Five years later Beyeler (24) took over the firm when Schloss died and gradually moved it into art dealing. His first exhibition was of Japanese woodcuts.
A purchase in the early sixties of 340 art works from the American banker, industrialist and art collector G. David Thompson bought Beyeler actives to a higher level. The collection included works by Braque, Cézanne, Paul Klee, Léger, Matisse, Monet, Picasso, and Mondrian. Never afraid to stick his head out Beyeler bought for record prices works from Willem de Kooning’s abstract landscape ($180.000) or Fernand Léger’s cubist painting Forms in Contrast $14.7 million in 1989.
Meanwhile he never stopped collecting masterpieces of the twentieth century. In the seventies a purchase of some hundred artworks from Kandinsky instigated him to found with his wife, fellow art dealer Hilda “Hildy” Kunz the Beyeler Foundation (1982). Part of the collection was already shown at exhibitions in Madrid, Berlin and Sydney, before he decided to build his own museum. Most accommodating was the offer of the municipality of the nearby Riehen of the Villa Berower estate with its surrounding grounds. Beyeler engaged the Italian architect Renzo Piano to build this museum, which opened in 1997 and made a beautiful home for many highlights like the waterlilies of Monet, Giacometti’s sculptures, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso’s but also for Beyelers adored collection of African, Alaskan and Oceanic Art.