The Kunstmuseum Basel Celebrates 50 Years of The Picasso Story

By Dirk Vanduffel - Tuesday, February 13, 2018
The Kunstmuseum Basel Celebrates 50 Years of The Picasso Story

The Kunstmuseum in Basel is the proud home of several original Picasso artworks, but the story of how the museum came to possess the pieces is perhaps even more interesting than the works themselves.

The Kunstmuseum in Basel is the proud home of several original Picasso artworks, but the story of how the museum came to possess the pieces is perhaps even more interesting than the works themselves.

As the museum prepares for a 50 year retrospective of the acquisitions titled Art. Money. Museum: The Picasso-Story, 50 Years Later (opening March 8, 2018), ArtDependence caught up with museum curator Eva Reifert to find out more about the extraordinary events that led to the museum’s collection.  

ArtDependence Magazine: How important is it for a museum to look back?

Eva Reifert: In this respect I don’t think that institutions and individuals are that different: I think it is of vital interest to look back and consider your own history once in a while. It’s a good opportunity to reflect on where you came from and how far you’ve come. It gives you a chance to adjust or realign your objectives, if necessary. 

AD: I am sure the acquisition of the works mentioned was memorable for the museum, can you tell us how this acquisition took place?

ER: The two masterpieces: Les deux frères (1906) and Arlequin assis (1923) by Picasso, had been a constant presence at the Kunstmuseum Basel for about 20 years. In 1967, after the tragic event of a plane crash, the owner had to sell them due to financial straits. He offered the museum the option to buy these two works for 8.4 million Swiss francs. It was decided that 6 million of this sum would be paid for with taxpayers’ money and 2.4 million would have to be raised in a concerted public fundraising effort. The so-called Bettlerfest was a major event in 1967. The entire city was on the streets with enormous enthusiasm. Notably, many young people and even a football team demonstrated their support for the acquisitions. What makes the story so compelling, though, is that the 6 million from public funds were contested in a referendum, which led to a public vote on whether or not to buy Picasso’s art. Against all odds, the yes side won. Picasso, who had heard about this vote for his art, invited the director of the Basel Kunstmuseum, Franz Meyer, to his studio in southern France where, as a gift to the people of Basel, he presented him with two works and let him choose two more from a range of his most recent paintings. It’s an incredible story.

AD: Is it still possible for the museum to purchase works of this importance nowadays?

ER: We are continually expanding the collection. Acquiring works in this price range was an exception, even back then. Today, if we are interested in an expensive work of art, we heavily rely on the support of donors and sponsors. 

AD: You refer to the acquisition of the works by Picasso. Can you tell us what the works are insured for today?

ER: It’s a very high figure. But really, they are irreplaceable.

Image on top: Homme, femme et enfant, Pablo Picasso, Herbst 1906 (Paris). Kunstmuseum Basel- Geschenk des Künstlers an die Stadt Basel; Depositum der Einwohnergemeinde der Stadt Basel. Photocredit: Kunstmuseum Basel, Martin P. Bühler

Dirk defines the overall policy of ArtDependence Magazine, in addition to conducting interviews. He specializes in valuation and auctioning.

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Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

Museo Jumex (a private art collection based in Mexico City, Mexico) / David Chipperfield. Image © Simon Menges

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