Karl Nierendorf Estate

Karl Nierendorf, ca. 1910

Karl Nierendorf, ca. 1910.  Courtesy Archive of Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin

The opening exhibition Contemporary Art, with Karl Nierendorf reading in the background

Presumably the opening exhibition Contemporary Art, with Karl Nierendorf reading in the background, Nierendorf Gallery, 20 West 53rd Street, New York, January 1937. Courtesy Archives of the Galerie Nierendorf, Berlin  

In 1948 the Guggenheim Foundation purchased the entire estate of New York art dealer Karl Nierendorf (1889–1947). Nierendorf had begun his career in the art trade three decades earlier in Cologne, where together with his brother, Josef (1898–1949), he had specialized in watercolors and drawings, especially those of The Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) group and other Expressionist artists. After a brief partnership with art dealer J. B. Neumann (1887–1961), Nierendorf took over his Graphisches Kabinette in Berlin, following Neumann’s departure for New York in 1923. Karl Nierendorf himself immigrated to New York in 1936 and established the Nierendorf Gallery, which was briefly located directly across from the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street. Josef Nierendorf remained behind in Berlin to operate Galerie Nierendorf—a gallery still in existence today.

Nierendorf joined a growing community of émigré artists and dealers in New York and soon after his arrival encountered Hilla Rebay (1890–1967) and the newly established Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Rebay was a German-born artist as well as the founding director and curator of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, the forerunner of the Guggenheim Museum. She and Nierendorf met around 1937 through a shared passion for the art of Vasily Kandinsky, and a strong business relationship quickly developed between Nierendorf and the Guggenheim Foundation. Unfaltering in his support of the avant-garde, Nierendorf also promoted other artists strongly represented in the Guggenheim Collection, including Lyonel Feininger, Franz Marc, and the Abstract Expressionist Perle Fine, leading the young museum to purchase a number of important works for its founding collection from the Nierendorf Gallery. From the spring of 1946 to the fall of 1947, Nierendorf returned to Europe to observe the reemergence of cultural life after World War II and assess the state of the art market. The dealer not only acquired art to replenish his gallery stock, securing especially large purchases from the estates of artists Paul Klee and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, but he also made personal calls to friends and relatives, including Rebay’s family in Germany.

Shortly after his return from Europe in the fall of 1947, Nierendorf suffered a fatal heart attack. The Guggenheim Foundation purchased the entire estate of Karl Nierendorf early the following year from the State of New York, thereby acquiring not only purchases made abroad on behalf of the foundation, but also Nierendorf’s gallery inventory and art objects likely from his personal collection. The estate of Karl Nierendorf also included various items from his residence and gallery, such as miscellaneous furniture and books. However, the estate did not contain Nierendorf’s gallery archives or personal papers. While materials related to the Nierendorf Gallery can be found in alternative repositories and archives, the vast majority of his New York papers are considered lost.

The purchase of the estate of Karl Nierendorf expanded the breadth of the Guggenheim Foundation’s original holdings with a concentration of Expressionist works, such as Oskar Kokoschka’s Knight Errant (1915); Surrealist paintings such as Joan Miró’s Personage (1925); and several early paintings by Adolph Gottlieb—among the first works by a member of the nascent school of Abstract Expressionism to enter the Guggenheim’s collection.

Browse works from the Estate of Karl Nierendorf in the Collection Online.


Related Exhibition

From Berlin to New York: Karl Nierendorf and the Guggenheim
January 10–May 4, 2008


Suggested Reading

Walter-Ris, Anja. Kunstleidenschaft im Dienst der Moderne. Die Geschichte der Galerie Nierendorf Berlin/New York 1920–1995. Zurich: InterPublishers, 2003

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