Founder Walter Wüthrich

Walter Wüthrich was born on 10 November 1918. He grew up in a house (number 39) in the Neubad district of Basel, where the street names recall travel destinations in the South, and he finished commercial college with a school-leaving certificate. After completing his basic military training and doing an internship at what was then called Rhenus AG, he took ship at the Rhine river port. With his sights set on South America and his savings book in his pocket, he made his way to Rotterdam. Shortly before the war broke out, he caught the last ship allowed to put off for foreign parts.

Almost by chance, he landed in Rio de Janeiro, where he set up as an innovative street trader. He realised that it was a country where it was possible to get on through hard work and dogged determination, and was soon selling looms on behalf of Swiss mechanical engineering firms.

It wasn't until twelve years later that he returned to Basel to forge further contacts. Back in Rio, he set up his own business. A confirmed bachelor, he expanded his business and was by now fitting out whole factories, covering a sales area which included other parts of South America.

His lifestyle remained modest, and he allowed himself few luxuries, seeing holidays as a waste of time. For relaxation he would go sailing or walk along the beach. He had a special affection for the vibrant life of the city and the stimulating atmosphere of the ports, with their sense of imminent departures.

He visited Switzerland every five years, not travelling by air until 1961, as before that he considered it too expensive. These trips were always arranged to coincide with trade fairs in Europe. Work went on as usual.

Between 1960 and 1970 he got to know the Austrian/Brazilian artist Franz Widmar in Rio. The two became friends and Walter Wüthrich bought his first paintings, impressed by Widmar's passion for work and continual efforts to explore new styles. Wüthrich also particularly admired Widmar's luminous palette of colours.

Visits home to Basel became longer and more frequent. In 1955, at the age of 77, he promised Widmar, who was on his deathbed, that he would ensure that the artist's life's work would be properly recognized by being put on permanent display in a gallery.

After Widmar's death, Wüthrich supported his widow, who had been left without a pension. He bought all the remaining works, to add to his already considerable collection. At the age of 80 he finally gave up work, using his retirement to turn his project for a "Franz Widmar Museum" into reality.

He met Onorio Mansutti, who had been born in 1939, the year Wüthrich emigrated, and asked him to find suitable premises in Basel. Many ideas were developed, and some of them can now be realized.

Walter Wüthrich died in 2002, shortly after his 84th birthday. Sadly, he was never to know that his ideas would finally become reality in a house with the number 39 on the West Dock of the Rhine port of Basel, right next to his first and only employer in Switzerland – the company now called Rhenus Alpina AG, and in the very place where 65 years ago he took ship for South America, some 39 steps from the entrance of the present-day Brasilea building. He particularly loved the stimulating atmosphere of ports, with their sense of imminent departures.


We would like to express our sincere thanks to our founder Walter Wüthrich, our first president Onorio Mansutti for his support during build-up and our alumni of the foundation board for their dedication.