The leading private collection of work by Alberto Giacometti was assembled around 1955 by Pittsburgh industrialist G. David Thompson, who purchased most of the pieces from Pierre Matisse of New York, the art dealer central to Giacometti’s career. Thompson also contacted the artist himself, had his portrait done by Giacometti and acquired works from him directly, with the intention of one day transferring his holdings to a museum for display.
In 1960, having learned from Basel art dealer Ernst Beyeler that the collection was for sale, René Wehrli, then Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich, hatched a plan to keep the Giacomettis - 61 sculptures, seven paintings and 21 drawings with a price-tag of CHF 3 million – in Switzerland.
Collectors Hans C. Bechtler and Walter A. Bechtler were keen to help get the pieces for Zurich, and it is thanks to their years of work that the Foundation exists.
Ernst Beyeler, who had been charged with the sale, acquired the collection when procurement of funds proved sluggish, with financing provided by Basel collector Hans Grether. Soon thereafter Hans C. Bechtler and a group of patrons were able to use interest-free loans from three major Swiss banks to secure the works for the Foundation, and as of 1963 they were displayed in the Kunsthaus Zürich. A financing package from the federal, cantonal and city administrations was torpedoed by a campaign in the press, but a group of private individuals and companies donated the requisite funds.
Under the leadership of Hans C. Bechtler, its first president, the Alberto Giacometti Foundation was formally established on 16 December 1965, not long before the artist’s death on 11 January 1966.
The first Foundation Board comprised the key sponsors:
Dr. Walter A. Bechtler, Ernst Göhner, Hans Grether, Walter Haefner, Walter Meier, A. H. Meyer, Balthasar Reinhart, Karl G. Steiner, Gustav Zumsteg, Bruno Giacometti, Dr. René Wehrli and Prof. Adolf Max Vogt.
Alberto Giacometti himself donated three sculptures, nine late paintings, six drawings and 19 lithographs.
The generous involvement of Hans Grether and Balthasar Reinhart has led to a quarter of the works being shown in the Kunstmuseum Basel, and a tenth in the Kunstmuseum Winterthur.
The later donations
Since its establishment, the Foundation has seen its holdings enhanced by purchases and gifts, notably from Bruno and Odette Giacometti, Hans C. and Elisabeth Bechtler-Staub, Dr. Anton and Anna Bucher-Bechtler, Franz Meyer (its second president), James Lord, Rudolf Werner, the estate of Margrit Bühler-Gredig and the city and canton of Zurich.
In 2006, together with his wife Odette, Bruno Giacometti donated 75 original plasters, a stone sculpture, two works in plasticine and 15 bronzes, including some very significant late pieces, all from the estate of his late brother. This doubled the Foundation’s store of sculpture, and meant that for the first time the collection comprised art drawn from Giacometti’s entire creative life, from his earliest efforts to his very last, illuminating every key element of his work and affording a glimpse at numerous surprising facets of his oeuvre.
Portrait of G. David Thompson, 1957
Oil on canvas, 100 x 73 cm