In the years around 1955, the Pittsburgh industrialist G. David Thompson assembled the leading private collection of works by Alberto Giacometti. Most were purchased from the gallerist Pierre Matisse in New York, but Thompson also contacted Giacometti personally, had his portrait painted by the artist, and obtained some works from him directly, already with the intention of transferring the collection to a museum.
Having learned from the Basel art dealer Ernst Beyeler in 1960 that Thompson’s collection was for sale, René Wehrli, then Director of the Kunsthaus Zürich, devised a plan to keep the Giacometti works together in Switzerland. The asking price for the 61 sculptures, seven paintings and 21 drawings was 3 million Swiss francs.
The Alberto Giacometti Foundation was formally established on 16 December 1965, shortly before the artist’s death, under the leadership of its first president Hans C. Bechtler.
Its first board included the key sponsors: Dr. Walter A. Bechtler, Ernst Göhner, Walter Haefner, Walter Meier, A. H. Meyer, Balthasar Reinhart, Karl G. Steiner, Gustav Zumsteg as well as Dr. René Wehrli and Prof. Adolf Max Vogt. Hans Grether and Bruno Giacometti joined the group somewhat later.
Alberto Giacometti himself donated three sculptures, nine late paintings, six drawings and 19 lithographs.