The Galerie Beyeler's success story began over 50 years ago. It mirrors the life of Ernst Beyeler, who was born in Basel in 1921, the son of a railway worker. After leaving school, where he obtained a diploma in commercial studies, he attended university lectures in both art history and economics, while simultaneously working for Oskar Schloss, who ran an antiquarian book and print shop at Bäumleingasse 9. When Schloss died unexpectedly in 1945, Ernst Beyeler, who had by then gained some experience in the field, decided to carry on the business for Schloss's heirs. Just two years later, the gallery staged its first exhibition of Japanese woodcuts, which was soon followed by others. In 1951 the antiquarian bookshop was wound up and only the art gallery, which concentrated mainly on classic modern art and which organised exhibitions almost non-stop, remained in business. Due to the steady growth in its activities, the gallery subsequently took over an additional floor in the building as well as various storerooms.
Thanks to his excellent negotiating skills and his readiness to take risks, Ernst Beyeler was able to make major acquisitions from the Thompson Collection, including works by artists such as Klee, Cézanne, Monet, Matisse and Giacometti. Ernst Beyeler also had the good fortune to get to know Pablo Picasso personally, as a result of which he was able to select various works from among those in the artist's possession. In the course of its existence, the Galerie Beyeler has held more than 250 exhibitions, most of them of classic modern works. In the early 1980s it organised two major international exhibitions outside the gallery: "Sculpture in the 20th Century" in the Wenken Park in Riehen und in the Merian Park in Basel.
In parallel to their activities as gallery owners, Ernst and Hildy Beyeler built up a private collection of works that they liked so much they wanted to keep them.
The first time their private collection was placed on public display was in 1989 at the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid. It was then shown at two other exhibitions, one in Berlin and one in Sydney. Since 1997 the Beyeler Collection has been housed in the Fondation Beyeler, a public museum designed by the famous architect Renzo Piano that is located in Riehen on the outskirts of Basel.
Despite the existence of the museum, Ernst Beyeler continues to run the Galerie Beyeler. It is still located at Bäumleingasse 9, where everything first began.