The Kunstmuseum Basel is the oldest museum in Switzerland and one of the most important art institutions in Europe.
History and architecture
The museum’s origins date back to 1671, when the private collection of paintings, drawings, natural history specimens, and ethnographic artifacts of lawyer Basilius Amerbach, collectively known today as Amerbach Cabinet, was purchased by the city of Basel to display it to the public.
That first nucleus was thereafter expanded through acquisitions, gifts, and bequests to eventually constitute the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung, the collection on which the Kunstmuseum Basel is currently based.
Initially housed in the 16th century Haus Zur Mücke (House of the Mosquito, a colloquial local term indicating a venue where dance music was played, a ballroom) near the city’s Cathedral, in 1936 the museum moved to a new, imposing Romanesque revival building designed by architects Rudolf Christ and Paul Bonatz.
The first home of the museum, the “Haus zur Mücke” in Basel, watercolor by Johann Jakob Neustück (1799-1867)
The main building of the Kunstmuseum Basel, designed by Rudolf Christ and Paul Bonatz in the 1930s
In 2016, an additional building was completed after a design by Swiss architects Christ & Gantenbein. Characterized by forms and materials which recall those of the old building of the museum, though with a contemporary architectural language, the extension, and the main home are connected through an underground wing, which also accommodates various multi-purpose spaces.
Site plan of the museum area with the old (left) and the new (right) buildings
The Kunsmuseum main building (foreground) and expansion (background), photo by Julian Salinas
The new building at night, photo by Julian Salinas courtesy of Kunsmuseum Basel
General section with the old building (left) and the expansion (right), and basement level plan of the extension, courtesy Kunstmuseum Basel
The new building, photo Stefano Graziani
The Kunstmuseum Basel also comprises a separate venue, the Gegenwart. aimed to showcase the museum’s collection of contemporary art.
Collection and activities
The permanent collection of the Kunstmuseum Basel encompasses some 4,000 paintings, sculptures, and installations – as well as about 300,000 drawings and prints – dating from the Middle-ages to the present.
Medieval and Old Masters‘ works include important pieces by the Holbein family, Martin Schongauer, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Matthias Grünewald, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt van Rijn, Jan Brueghel the Elder, and Caspar Wolff.
Kunstmuseum Basel’s permanent exhibition, main building, room with works by Swiss. Austrian, and German masters of the 15th century, photo: Gina Folly
The permanent exhibition, main building, room with works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Joos de II. Momper, Hans Schäuflein, and Conrad Schnitt, photo: Gina Folly
The Symbolist, Impressionist, and post-Impressionist sections feature works by Arnold Böcklin, Giovanni Segantini, Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, and Vincent van Gogh, among others.
The main building, room with works by Arnold Böcklin, photo: Gina Folly
The collection of modern and post-war art include pieces by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi, Le Corbusier, Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Jean Arp, Edvard Munch, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Max Beckmann, Emil Nolde, Otto Dix, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dalí, Jean Dubuffet, Eduardo Chillida, Antoni Tàpies, Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Georg Baselitz, Mark Rothko, Alexander Calder, Max Bill, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, and Claes Oldenburg, among others.
The permanent exhibition, new building, room with works by Andy Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein, photo: Gina Folly
The new building, room with works by Augusto Giacometti, Albert Müller, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, photo: Gina Folly
The new building, room with works by Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Joseph Kosuth, and Donald Judd, photo: Gina Folly
As mentioned earlier, the contemporary art collection of the museum is on view in a separate venue, the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart. (you can find here a dedicated page)
Along with the permanent exhibition, the Kunstmuseum Basel also features temporary exhibitions, educational courses, workshops, and special events.
The museum’s buildings include a conservation department, a library, a bookshop, and a bistro/cafeteria.
Cover photo by Julian Salinas
How our readers rate this museum (you can vote)
More in Basel
copyright Inexhibit 2021 - ISSN: 2283-5474