Kunstmuseum Basel
Swiss Art Museum, History, Collection Highlights, Hans Holbein Portraits.

Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden
Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin
Pinakothek Museum Munich
Kunsthistorisches Museum

The Kunstmuseum Basel, is one of the
best art museums in the world.

Kunstmuseum Basel


History of the Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel
The Permanent Collection


One of the best art museums in Europe, the Kunstmuseum Basel has the most important collection of fine art in Switzerland, and has been designated a heritage site of national significance. Dating back to the mid-17th century, the museum concentrates on paintings and drawings from the Upper Rhine German Renaissance (c.1400-1600), including portraits by Hans Holbein, as well as modern art (c.1800-1970) and various forms of contemporary art (c.1970-present).

Mauritshuis Art Museum
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Hermitage St Petersburg
Tretyakov Gallery Moscow
National Gallery London
British Museum
Tate Gallery
Courtauld Gallery
British Royal Art Collection
Saatchi Gallery
Victoria & Albert Museum
Uffizi Gallery Florence
Pitti Palace, Florence
Doria Pamphilj Gallery
Capodimonte Museum, Naples
Guggenheim Venice
Irish Art Galleries

History of the Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel

Purchase of the Amerbach Collection

Basel's public art collection, the Offentliche Kunstsammlung Basel, was founded largely on its acquisition of the Amerbach Kabinett, an art collection dating back to the pre-Reformation era. In 1661, some 60 years after the death of Basilius Amerbach (1533-1591), whose father had been a close friend of Erasmus (1469-1536) - the greatest scholar of the Northern Renaissance - the collection was about to be transferred to Amsterdam when professors from the University of Basel stepped in to try and save the collection for the city. At the time, the art collection comprised around 50 paintings (15 by the acclaimed portraitist Hans Holbein the Younger) as well as an extensive portfolio of drawings and prints. Mayor Johannes Rudolf Wettstein was enrolled in the cause and the collection was duly purchased for the significant sum of 9,000 Reichstaler. Ten years later, the collection was opened to the public, and became one of the city's major cultural attractions.

Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts
Louvre Museum
Musee Conde, Chantilly
Musee d'Orsay
Strasbourg Museum of Fine Arts
Pompidou Centre

Reina Sofia, Madrid
Prado Museum Madrid

For details of any important art
shows being staged at the
Kunstmuseum Basel,
see: Art News Headlines.

See our guide to the art of
Painting (oils/watercolours), or
Sculpture (marble/bronze), or
Printmaking (etching/lithography).

Acquisition of the Remigius Faesch Collection

Over the next 150 years, the Basel Kunstmuseum collection was augmented by donations from a variety of municipal and private donors. In 1823 it was boosted further by the addition of works previously owned by a museum founded by jurist Remigius Faesch (1595-1667), including additional paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger, as well as important works by Northern Renaissance artists from the Upper Rhine, and numerous examples of drawing and printmaking.

Donations and bequests continued during the remainder of the 19th-century. They included eleven panels by Konrad Witz (1400-44), a key member of the Swiss School, which were given to the Kunstmuseum by Basel families.

The Samuel Birrmann Bequest

In 1855, a bequest by the Basel art dealer Samuel Birrmann (1793-1843) established a significant fund to purchase contemporary Swiss art, an early acquisition of which was a large group of paintings by the Basel artist Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) - who was, along with Ferdinand Hodler (1853-1918), the greatest Swiss painter of the 19th century.

Since 1903, funds have also been regularly provided by the Canton of Basel-Stadt, a process which continues to this day.

St Alban-Graben Premises

In 1849, Basel's public art collection was given its first new home in a neoclassical building in Augustinergasse, designed by Melchior Berri. (This structure still houses the city's Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Culture.) Then, in 1936, it was transferred to its current location - a purpose-built venue in St Alban-Graben, designed by architects Rudolf Christ and Paul Bonatz.

Modern Art Acquisitions

During the pre-war years, the governors of the Kunstmuseum decided to develop a major collection of modern art, and took full advantage of the opportunity in 1939 to purchase a large holding of avant garde art - designated as degenerate art (entartete kunst) by the Nazis. Since then, thanks to additional gifts (including Raoul La Roche's magnificent collection of Cubist works, as well as donations from the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation and the Im Obersteg Foundation), the museum has managed to assemble a highly distinguished and extensive sample of modern works.

Contemporary Art Acquisitions

During the period 1970-2000, the museum expanded its representation of contemporary art movements, with the accent on American art as well as individual avant-garde artists like the German genius Joseph Beuys (1921-86). It is now recognized as one of the best galleries of contemporary art in Europe. In 1980, following a donation by Maja Sacher-Stehlin, in association with the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation and the Christoph Merian Foundation, the museum established a Gallery of Contemporary Art in a converted factory at St. Alban-Rheinweg. In 1999, Maja Oeri donated the building next to the Kunstmuseum, to the City of Basel, in order to allow for further growth by the art collection and the University's Department of Art History.

The Permanent Collection

In its collection of North European Renaissance art, the Basel Kunstmuseum owns the world's largest collection of paintings by Hans Holbein The Younger (1497-1543) and family, as well as masterpieces by Konrad Witz, the religious painters Hans Baldung Grien (1484-1545) and Matthias Grunewald (1470-1528), the printmaker Martin Schongauer (1440-91) and the portraitist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553).

Its collection of Baroque painting includes important examples of Dutch Baroque and Flemish Baroque, by masters like Rubens (1577-1640), Rembrandt (1606-69), Adriaen Brouwer (1605-38), Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91) and Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625).

Its 19th-century holdings include Impressionist paintings by Edouard Manet (1832-83), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) and Alfred Sisley (1839-1899); works by Post-Impressionist painters like Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) and Paul Signac (1863-1935); expressionist works by Van Gogh (1853-1890), and Symbolist pictures by Odilon Redon (1840-1916).

The 20th-century collection concentrates on Cubism (Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris, Fernand Leger) and Expressionism (Edvard Munch, Wassily Kandinsky, Alexei von Jawlensky, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Franz Marc, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Georges Rouault), while other movements like Constructivism (Rodchenko), Dadaism (Jean Arp, Kurt Schwitters) and Surrealism (Salvador Dali) are also represented, as is non-objective art (Kasimir Malevich, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg) and Abstract Expressionism (Mark Tobey, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, Clyfford Still, Sam Francis, Kenneth Noland).

Swiss art is also heavily represented, with works by Arnold Bocklin, Ferdinand Hodler, Paul Klee (1879-1940), Alberto Giacometti (1901-66) and others.

Modern sculptors in the collection include: Aristide Maillol, Constantin Brancusi, Jacques Lipchitz, Georges Vantongerloo, Jean Tinguely, and Claes Oldenburg.

Regarding contemporary art, the collection features painting, sculpture, installation art, electronic media, video, and photographs by Swiss, German, Italian, and American artists, including Joseph Beuys, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Georg Baselitz, A.R.Penck, Eduardo Chillida, Antoni Tapies, Gerhard Richter, Brice Marden, Bruce Nauman, Bill Viola, Cindy Sherman and others.

The Basel Kunstmuseum's huge department of works on paper (the Kupferstichkabinett) consists of some 300,000 items, including drawings, watercolours and prints.


Established in 1849, the Library of the Kunstmuseum Basel contains over 150,000 titles dating back to 1859. In January 2005, it moved into a building directly adjacent to the Kunstmuseum, donated to museum by Maja Oeri. The majority of the books and manuscripts in the Library relate to the history of fine art from Carolingian (c.800) to the present day, with special reference to 15th and 16th century German art and Classical Modernism. Its collection of periodicals and journals covers the latest developments in the world of art history and scholarship.


• For more about the world's top museums of contemporary art, see: Homepage.

Art Types
© visual-arts-cork.com. All rights reserved.