Basel, Riehen District

Photo: The Rousseau room at the Fondation Beyeler © Fondation Beyeler

- February 23, 2016

As the art world makes a yearly pilgrimage to Art Basel — a renowned mega-cultural linchpin in the northern Swiss city on the riverbank of the Rhine — others gather at venues in the city’s green scapes of Riehen, seeking more leafy attributes.

The Fondation Beyeler gallery offers one such place, located in the green-fringed district of Riehen north of busy Basel. It’s an easy tram ride on No. 6 from the hustling Messeplatz 10 which serves as Art Basel’s headquarters to this mid-century-inspired build. The Renzo Piano-designed building has wowed crowds since opening in the 1990s, but so has the inside, which houses Ernst and Hildy Beyeler’s extraordinary collection of paintings. The gallery masterfully juxtaposes works from modern masters Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Pablo Picasso with temporary contemporary exhibitions of the playful avant-garde.

Fondation Beyeler gallery's exterior

Fondation Beyeler gallery’s exterior © Lucaderoma |

It was an early spring afternoon — after the previous day spent sightseeing Basel’s main attractions — when I boarded the tram for a quick visit. I wanted to see The Hungry Lion Throws Itself on the Antelope, an Henri Rousseau masterpiece which evokes a familiar scene from my earlier African safari trips.

I wandered through the Berowerpark, site of the gallery, and found the Rousseau among the collection. Sunlight filtered through the intricate glass ceiling, beaming down on the impressive junglescape painting, the hall’s arched skylights resembling an extraordinary jungle canopy.

With the nature theme in mind, visitors don’t need to go far. A week prior to the big arts bash in June, green-thumb types escape to the Basel Garden Festival in Sarasinpark, located near the Fondation Beyeler. This throwback to an English landscape garden presents the ponds, rolling lawns, perfectly positioned arboretums and beautifully restored buildings that all mesh fabulously in this five-day eco show.

For a sense of play and wonderment, head down the street to the Spielzeugmuseum, purportedly Switzerland’s largest toy museum, culled from the collection of an obsessive hobbyist, a local architect named Hans Peter His. Visitors step back in time to discover 200 years of European toy history and get a glimpse of rare shadow theater figures from the late 18th century and other unique antiques. Toys are whimsically displayed in the heritage country estate of former Basel mayor Johann Rudolf Wettstein.

After viewing the galleries and green space in Riehen, relax in an elegant country-style setting with a home-cooked Italian dinner at Wiesengarten Musetti, a culinary standout near the Fondation Beyeler.

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