von Wiegand, Charmion (1899–1993)

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von Wiegand, Charmion (1899–1993)

American abstract painter and collage artist . Born in 1899 in Chicago, Illinois; died in 1993; studied at Barnard College; married second husband Joseph Freeman (a magazine editor), in 1932.

Grew up in San Francisco; began painting (1926); writer for art magazines; met friend and mentor Piet Mondrian (1941); learned to paint Chinese characters and developed abstract collage style (1940s); organized Kurt Schwitter's exhibition of collages (1948); inspired by theosophy and Tibetan Buddhism.

Charmion von Wiegand was born in 1899 into a prosperous, middle-class family in Chicago and spent her childhood in San Francisco. That city—in particular the vibrant life of Chinatown—was one of her strong early influences, along with her father's theosophist religion, which incorporated elements of Buddhism.

Trying to meet her family's expectations, von Wiegand attended the prestigious women's college Barnard in New York and made a socially acceptable marriage. By the time she reached her late 20s, she was a very unhappy society wife living in Darien, Connecticut. Von Wiegand sought the help of a psychoanalyst, and in 1926 began to paint. She divorced her husband and, declining his financial help, began working as a journalist, painting only in her spare time. In 1932, von Wiegand married again, to magazine editor Joseph Freeman, and became a writer for art magazines.

Through her journalistic research, von Wiegand became increasingly interested in abstract art. In 1941, she interviewed the Dutch artist Piet Mondrian and found that her background in theosophy fit with his philosophy of order and harmony in art. He became both a good friend and artistic mentor, encouraging her to explore non-objective painting. The 1940s was a period of great experimentation for von Wiegand, leading her to an informal collage style that incorporated both paper and cloth, and juxtaposed symbols and solids. In 1948, she was one of the organizers of Kurt Schwitter's exhibition of collages.

Some of von Wiegand's collages incorporated Chinese characters painted in ink, and in the late 1940s, inspired by its religious symbolism, she began studying Tibetan Buddhist art. This combination of Buddhist and abstract art became the defining characteristic of von Wiegand's work. She expanded her knowledge with trips to India in the 1970s, and continued studying, writing, and producing collages well into her 80s. She died in 1993, at the age of 94.


Bailey, Brooke. The Remarkable Lives of 100 Women Artists. Holbrook, MA: Bob Adams, 1994.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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von Wiegand, Charmion (1899–1993)

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