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Hilla Rebay: 'With tenderness' 1945

With tenderness

Hilla Rebay | Germany/United States 1890 - 1967 | With tenderness 1945 | Oil on canvas | Gift of the Josephine Ulrick and Win Schubert Foundation for the Arts through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

In her later years Hilla Rebay continued to exhibit in New York with art historian Thomas Munro describing it as ‘sensitive, melodic and lyrical’.

Born Hildegard Anna Elizabeth Rebay von Ehrenwiesen in Strassburg, Germany (now France) to an aristocratic German family in 1890, Hilla Rebay studied music and then painting from an early age. While living in Berlin in 1913 Rebay met Hans Richter, who later occupied an adjacent studio, and they took up a lively dialogue about art. During a visit to Zurich in 1915, she met Hans (Jean) Arp who introduced her to the work of Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc and Rudolf Bauer. He also acquainted her with the Dada circle in Zurich. Arp gave her the almanac Der Blaue Reiter 1912 and a copy of Kandinsky’s seminal treatise Über das Geistige in der Kunst (1911, On the Spiritual in Art), which would greatly influence her work.

Rebay created a number of works based on outings to the Cirque Medrand and Ballets Russes in the 1910s. Often working in linocut or watercolour her figurative works of this time were reduced to lines, and then developed into non-figurative works.1 While in New York in the early 1930s, Rebay depicted the jazz scene in drawings and collages, harking back to her earlier ballet dancers. Rebay’s paintings, deeply influenced by Kandinsky, are characterised by expressive lines crossed by bands of flat colour and geometric shapes, attempting to find a balance between rhythm and line. Rebay herself described triangles, squares and circles as the fundamental pictorial element of non-objective paintings — the basic forms of absolute beauty.2 With tenderness 1945 is dominated by a dynamic constellation of overlapping geometric forms in white, green, yellow against a mottled grey and white background. It is a strong example of Rebay’s understanding and pursuit of non-objective painting. Rebay continued to exhibit in New York in her later years and art historian Thomas Munro described it as ‘sensitive, melodic, and lyrical’.3

In spite of being an accomplished artist, Rebay is best known for her work as art advisor to Solomon R Guggenheim and curator of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which would later become the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum. Rebay moved to New York in 1927 and Irene Guggenheim (Solomon’s wife) bought a collage and a painting from her solo show at Marie Sterner Gallery. The following year she began a portrait of Guggenheim and introduced him to non-objective art, encouraging him to begin collecting in this area. While in Paris in 1930, Rebay met Marc Chagall, Robert Delaunay, Fernand Léger, László Moholy-Nagy and Piet Mondrian. On this visit Rebay and the Guggenheims also meet Kandinsky at his studio and bought a number of his works.

Guggenheim’s collection under the title of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting opened on East Fifty-Fourth Street in Manhattan in June 1939 with Rebay as curator. Four years later Rebay initiated plans for a permanent museum for the collection, and contacted Frank Lloyd Wright to discuss the design of a ‘temple’ or ‘monument’ to the spirit of art.4 In 1949 Solomon Guggenheim died and left Rebay in charge of the museum, however, due to ill health and growing pressure from Trustees she resigned in 1952. The museum’s name subsequently changed to the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum.

Ellie Buttrose, Curatorial Assistant, Exhibitions and Research
1. Brigitte Salmen, ‘The Path to Non-Objective Art’ in The Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R Guggenheim (exhibition catalogue), Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York, p.67.
2. Karole Vail, ‘Rhythmic Delight: A Quest for Non-Objectivity’ in The Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R Guggenheim (exhibition catalogue), Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, New York, p.131.
3. Thomas Munro, ‘Preface’ in Hilla Rebay Paintings and Collages (exhibition catalogue), French & Company, New York, 1962 (unpag.).
4. ‘Hilla Rebay Chronology’ in The Art of Tomorrow: Hilla Rebay and Solomon R Guggenheim, p.247.