Hilla Rebay – A Baroness in Westport

February 6th, 2005 until May 15th, 2005

All Day

February 6 – May 15, 2005

Featuring her paintings and pochoirs from her Exemplaire portfolio
and the works of artists she fostered and promoted:

Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolph Bauer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Rolph Scarlett,
Ilya Bolotowsky, Alexander Calder and Victor Vasarely

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Hilla Rebay at the age of 45, New York, 1935

The Westport Historical Society proudly presents Hilla Rebay-A Baroness in Westport, featuring her paintings, pochoirs from her Exemplaire Portfolio, and works by artists whom she fostered and promoted: Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolf Bauer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Rolph Scarlett, Ilya Bolotowsky, Alexander Calder and Victor Vasarely. Although not a well-remembered name in Westport today, Hilla Rebay was the visionary spirit and co-founder of what is now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as well as a noted painter of non-objective art. A special section of the exhibit is devoted to her home and life in Westport, including her Franton Court estate on Morningside Drive South.

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2 Women, a pochoir by Hilla Rebay

Although not a well-remembered name in Westport today, Hilla Rebay, the visionary spirit and co-founder of what is now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as well as a noted painter of non-objective art, spent a good deal of time at her Westport home, Franton Court. With a life as dramatic as a contemporary soap opera, she helped to introduce Americans to noted artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, while playing a critical role in the emergence of New York as one of the great centers of twentieth-century art.

“Hilla Rebay was an astounding, larger than life character and the driving force behind the non objective art movement in the United States from the 20’s onward,” notes Joyce Thompson, the exhibition curator. “Her force of personality was such that we now have the world famous Guggenheim Museum…..no small feat. This unique exhibition was particularly satisfying to work on.”

Hilla Rebay – A Baroness in Westport, featuring her paintings and pochoirs from her Exemplaire portfolio as well as the works of artists she fostered and promoted including Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolf Bauer, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Rolph Scarlett, Ilya Bolotowsky, Katherine Drier, Alexander Calder and Victor Vasarely, is on view at Westport Historical Society from February 6 through May 15, 2005.

Selected art on view, including several of the unique pochoirs by Rebay as well as major works by Rebay, Bauer, and Scarlett, is for sale, with a portion of the proceeds going to support the work of the Westport Historical Society. Hilla Rebay’s pochoirs were produced by the Albert Gleizes print studio, circa 1930, and are from the collection of John Wilbourne. Prices for the pochoirs range from $325 to $850. Prices for selected major artworks, from the collection of Steve Lowy/Portico New York, range from $5,000 to $75,000. A full pricelist is available upon request; please call 203-222-1424 or email info@westporthistory.org.

Artwork and documentation for the exhibition has been generously loaned by Steven Lowy/Portico New York, The Westport Schools Permanent Art Collection, Ralph Sheffer, Wally Woods, Pat Heifitz, and John Wilbourne.

The Guggenheim Museum will present Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim from May 19 – August 7, 2005, providing yet another fascinating look at Westport’s own Baroness.

About Hilla Rebay

Born a European Baroness, Hilla Rebay was the visionary spirit and co-founder of what is now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, as well as a noted painter of non-objective art, and spent a good deal of time at her Westport home, Franton Court, which she owned for 30 years.

Born Baroness Hildegard Anna Augusta Elizabeth Rebay von Ehrenwiesen, to a titled family in Strassburg, Alsace, in 1890, she began drawing portraits at age five. Rebay went on to study art in Dusseldorf, Munich, Paris and Rome, and, in 1927, she immigrated to the United States, where she felt that both she and her art would be more appreciated.

In 1929, Hilla Rebay began an extraordinary collaboration with Solomon R. Guggenheim, resulting in the creation of one of the world’s finest collections of early twentieth century modern art. By 1939, the rapid expansion of the collection led to the formation of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, which was endowed to operate a museum, The Museum of Non-Objective Painting, with Hilla Rebay as its director.

In 1942, Rebay began working closely with architect Frank Lloyd Wright on plans for the “temple of spirit” she visualized as the final home for the collection, and in 1943, Guggenheim commissioned Wright to design a permanent structure to house The Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Revisions of the building plans, problems in locating the proper site and the fact that materials and labor were still in short supply following the war, held up its construction.

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Frank Lloyd Wright, Hilla Rebay, Solomon Guggenheim at the unveiling of the model for the Guggenheim Museum, August, 1945

When Solomon Guggenheim died in 1949, Wright had not been officially designated the museum’s architect. It was not until 1951 that Wright could convince the trustees that the museum should be built as a memorial to Solomon R. Guggenheim. Wright did not live to see the museum completed. When the museum finally opened its doors in 1959, Rebay was no longer its director, having been forced out by the board of trustees in 1952, because they felt that she had long held too much control over the late Solomon Guggenheim during his lifetime.

After leaving her 13-year post as Guggenheim’s director, Rebay made her 14-1/2 acre Westport estate, Franton Court, her permanent home. It was at this home that she received the best known artists of the day, such as Kandinsky, Chagall and Léger. During World War II the estate also served as a haven for artists who had relocated to America from Europe. She converted an old cow-barn on the property into a studio for herself, where she created her unique, large-scale non-objective artworks.

Following her death in 1967, the disposal of Rebay’s estate became a matter of litigation between the Hilla Rebay Foundation and the Guggenheim Museum. A final agreement was reached in 1974: The Rebay Collection would be curated by the Guggenheim Museum and the fate of the estate would be decided by the Hilla Rebay Foundation. Accordingly, two acres of her estate containing her home and outbuildings, were sold to Philip Silber and four acres were sold as building lots. A portion of the estate (8-1/2 acres) is preserved as a nature and wildlife sanctuary under the auspices of the Aspetuck Land Trust (ALT). Westporter Ripley Forbes, a former director of the ALT, who had also served on the Board of Advisory Trustees to the Hilla Rebay Foundation is credited with the preservation of this land as open space.

Since the estate was settled, paintings from the Hilla Rebay Foundation have been shown at four Fairfield County venues. In 1972, in accordance with Rebay’s desire during the last years of her life to have her work and collection exhibited locally-an exhibit underwritten by the Carlson Foundation was held at the Carlson Gallery at University of Bridgeport. A showing followed at Norwalk’s Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in 1973 and at the Greenwich Library in 1977. In 1989 an exhibit entitled Kandinsky was held at the Westport Art Center.