Painting, like music, has nothing to do with the reproduction of nature, nor interpretation of intellectual meanings. Whoever can feel the beauty of colors and forms has understood nonobjective painting. Hilla von Rebay (1890 – 1967)
Artist and museum director Hilla Rebay was born Hildegard Anna Augusta Elisabeth Freiin Rebay von Ehrenwiesen on May 31, 1899. Known as “Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen” or simply Hilla Rebay, she belonged to a German aristocratic family in Strasbourg, Alsace-Lorraine, then part of the German Empire.
Rebay attended the prestigious private art school Académie Julian in Paris (1909-1910). There, she combined her passion for art and spirituality through her paintings. Her portraiture skills turned into abstract art that became her signature. In 1916, Rebay moved to Berlin and had an exhibition at Galerie Der Sturm, where she showed a series of sketches Composition I (1915), which are now in Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum collection.
Visual: Hilla Rebay, photographed by Eugene Hutchinson in her Carnegie Hall studio in 1935. Photo: Eugene Hutchinson, Courtesy of HVRF Archives
On January 4, 1927, Hilla Rebay immigrated to the United States with the goal of establishing a gallery for non-object art with Rudolf Bauer’s work. She became a close friend of Solomon R. Guggenheim, encouraging him to invest in abstract art. When founding the Museum of Non-objective Painting (now known as the Guggenheim), Guggenheim utilized many of Rebay’s artworks and tapped her to become museum director. She served in this role until 1952. In 2005, the Guggenheim Museum again showed Rebay’s first exhibition, Art of Tomorrow, which originally opened in June 1939.
Hilla was denied U.S. citizenship in 1938 and in 1942 was named an enemy alien and taken into U.S. custody. Cleared of all charges, Rebay was awarded citizenship in 1947. Rebay passed away on November 1, 2008, leaving behind an unforgettable legacy.
Rebay von Ehrenwiesen can be found in the Ellis Island Passenger Database under Passenger ID 901703840647.
Visual: Forte, C. 1949-59