At age 66, the wealthy American industrialist Solomon R. Guggenheim begins to form a large collection of important modern paintings by artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall. He is guided in this pursuit by a young German artist and theorist, Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen. Rebay introduces Guggenheim to Kandinsky in his Dessau studio and Guggenheim purchases several paintings and works on paper; he will eventually acquire more than 150 works by this seminal artist.
Guggenheim’s growing collection is installed in his private apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Small exhibitions of newly acquired works are held there intermittently for the public.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is formed for the "promotion and encouragement and education in art and the enlightenment of the public." Chartered by the Board of Regents of New York State, the Foundation is endowed to operate a museum or museums. Rebay is appointed its Trustee and Curator.
Under the auspices of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting opens in rented quarters at 24 East 54th Street in order to exhibit Solomon’s collection. Under Rebay’s direction, the museum—decorated with pleated gray velour on the walls and thick gray carpet, and featuring recorded classical music and incense—showcases the work of American, as well as European abstract artists.
Guggenheim and Rebay commission Frank Lloyd Wright to design a permanent structure to house the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Over the next 15 years, Wright will make some 700 sketches, and six separate sets of working drawings for the building. Between 1944 and 1951, the foundation acquires three tracts of land between East 88th and 89th streets on Fifth Avenue, but construction is delayed until 1956 for various reasons, foremost among them the death of Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1949 and postwar inflation.
Rebay resigns and is replaced as director by James Johnson Sweeney. The name of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting is changed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to distinguish it as a memorial to its founder, and to signify a shift toward a broader view of modern and contemporary art. Under Sweeney, the Guggenheim purchases several sculptures by Constantin Brancusi and other important artists whose work does not fall within the category of “nonobjective” art.
The museum opens to an enthusiastic public on October 21, just six months after Wright’s death. From the beginning, the relationship between the breathtaking architecture of the building and the art it was built to display inspires controversy and debate. One critic writes that the museum “has turned out to be the most beautiful building in America . . . never for a minute dominating the pictures being shown,” while another insists that the structure is “less a museum than it is a monument to Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Following by one year the resignation of Sweeney, Thomas Messer is appointed as director of the museum. He will remain in that position for 27 years, during which time he greatly expands the collection and establishes the Guggenheim Museum as a world-class institution in the realms of art scholarship and special exhibitions.
The Guggenheim receives a major portion of Justin K. Thannhauser’s renowned personal collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern art. Over the years, Thannhauser and his widow, Hilde, will give the Guggenheim more than 70 works, including 34 by Picasso alone. This donation greatly enlarges the scope of the collection to include painting of the 19th century, beginning with Camille Pissarro’s The Hermitage at Pontoise (ca. 1867). Under the terms of the gift, the Thannhauser Collection is on permanent view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.
Plan Your Visit
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
1071 Fifth Avenue
(at 89th Street)
New York, NY 10128-0173
Hours & Ticketing
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Students and Seniors (65 years +) with valid ID $18
Children under 12 Free
Multimedia guides are free with admission.
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The permanent collection
of the Guggenheim Museum constitutes the very core of the institution.