Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim


Born in Strasbourg in 1890, Hilla Rebay (Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen), studied art in Cologne, Paris, Munich, and Berlin, and was interested in Theosophy and diverse religious and spiritual ideas. Although Rebay had obtained a solid academic training as a portrait and figurative painter, she would later devote herself to non-objective painting: art without representational links to the material world. She associated and exhibited with the Dada group in Zurich and Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin, participating actively in the European avant-garde.

In 1927, Rebay moved to the United States and met Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861–1949), becoming his artistic adviser. She influenced him to purchase non-objective art, which she believed to be infused with spirituality. Rebay served as the first director and curator of Guggenheim's Museum of Non-Objective Painting—which would be renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1952—and instituted a series of traveling exhibitions devoted to Guggenheim's collection. In 1943 her vision of a "museum-temple" led her to choose Frank Lloyd Wright to design a permanent museum for the collection. Notwithstanding her museum activities, Rebay had a long artistic career, during which she exhibited in museums and galleries in Europe and the United States. She produced a prolific array of non-objective and figurative paintings and works on paper, including collages, a medium in which she particularly excelled.

In 1952, due to philosophical differences with Solomon Guggenheim's nephew, Harry F. Guggenheim, the president of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Rebay resigned as director of the museum but continued her relationship with the institution in the role of director emeritus. Part of her estate, which included works by Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Kurt Schwitters, was given to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum four years after her death in 1967.

Hilla Rebay and her dog Gus aboard ship bound for Europe, November 1932. The Hilla von Rebay Foundation Archives.

Hilla Rebay
Solomon R. Guggenheim
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