The Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation was established in 1933 by Maja Hoffmann-Stehlin, the later Maja Sacher-Stehlin, (1896–1989), to continue the commitment to contemporary art which she and her husband, who passed away young, had begun. From the start, Maja Sacher-Stehlin, consistently pursued the three main objectives of her foundation: collecting, conservation and mediation of forward-looking art. In 1941, she entrusted the collection to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung as a permanent loan. In 1980, she initiated the creation of the Museum für Gegenwartskunst and generously helped fund construction of the building. One of the world's first museums of contemporary art, it is now known as the Kunstmuseum Basel | Gegenwart.

The foundation’s capital still today enables the Foundation Board to continuously develop the collection which has now become so extensive that only a small part of it can be on view in the Kunstmuseum Basel | Basel. Since 2003, the Schaulager is the home for the collection’s works not currently on exhibition.