Rebay, Hilla (1890–1967)

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Rebay, Hilla (1890–1967)

German-born artist and director of New York's Guggenheim Museum. Name variations: Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenweisen. Born Hildegard Anna Augusta Elisabeth Rebay on May 31, 1890, in Strasbourg, Alsace, Bavaria; died on September 27, 1967, in Green Farms, Connecticut; daughter of Baron Franz Joseph Rebay (a career army officer) and Antonie von Eicken Rebay; studied at the Dusseldorf Academy and in Paris and Munich.

Exhibited with avant-garde groups like the Secession (Munich), the Salon des Indépendents (Paris), the November Gruppe (Berlin), and the Krater (1914–20); exhibited in Berlin at Herwarth Walden's gallery, Der Sterm (1917); exhibited at the Worcester Museum (1927); exhibited at French and Company (1962).

Though little known outside the New York art community, German-American artist Hilla Rebay was instrumental in establishing a base for non-objective art. Born in Bavaria in 1890, Rebay was a successful painter before arriving in the United States in 1927. She was soon commissioned to render a portrait of the scion of the Swiss-American mining dynasty Solomon R. Guggenheim, who, with his wife Irene Guggenheim, was an avid collector of old-master art. Rebay convinced the Guggenheims to take a look at the modern-art movement in Germany.

Under her tutelage, the Guggenheims' collection of avant-garde art became so vast that Rebay convinced them to share their private collection with the public. As a result, she was the moving spirit behind the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, which opened in a rented gallery on 54th Street in New York. In 1948, Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to design the Guggenheim Museum that now resides on Fifth Avenue between 88th St. and 89th. Over the years, Rebay introduced modern artists like Piet Mondrian, Theo van Doesburg, Georges Vantongerloo, Laszló Moholy-Nagy, Klee, Chagall, and Kandinsky to American audiences. Her collection also contained the works of Henri Matisse, Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, Pablo Picasso, and Fernand Léger. Though considered autocratic, Rebay mentored many young artists, contributing money for their supplies and exhibiting their work in shows dedicated to up-and-coming talent; along with many others, she supported Perle Fine, Jackson Pollock, and Rudolf Bauer for several years. Rebay retired as director of the museum in 1951.

suggested reading:

Lukach, Joan M. Hilla Rebay: In Search of the Spirit of Art. Brazillier, 1983.

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