Solomon Robert Guggenheim
Solomon Robert Guggenheim (1861–1949)
Solomon R. Guggenheim was one of ten children born to Meyer and Barbara (Meyers) Guggenheim. In 1847 the family emigrated from Switzerland to Philadelphia. Meyer worked his way up from a peddler to a merchant and manufacturer. In 1879 Meyer Guggenheim invested in a silver mine, and soon owned silver, lead, and copper mines.
Along with several of his brothers, Solomon was actively involved in the Guggenheim family mining businesses. Known as a courageous young man, he was very receptive to new ideas and new ways of doing things. In 1895, Solomon Guggenheim married Irene Rothschild; together, they had three daughters. Irene Rothschild Guggenheim was interested in art, and it was she who convinced her husband to collect, at first focusing on “old master” paintings.
In 1929 Irene commissioned a newly arrived German painter named Hilla Rebay to paint her husband Solomon’s portrait. Solomon visited Rebay’s studio in Carnegie Hall, where the walls were hung with non-objective paintings. While Rebay painted Guggenheim’s portrait, she taught him about non-objective art. She later wrote, “Guggenheim, who had been collecting paintings by old masters for many years… saw a non-objective painting, a watercolor by Rudolf Bauer. ‘By Jove, this is beautiful,’ was his immediate reaction.”
In the summer of 1929, Hilla Rebay and Mr. and Mrs. Guggenheim traveled to Europe, where they visited the studios of many artists who were painting non-objective art. During that trip, Guggenheim purchased his first piece of non-objective art: Vasily Kandinsky’s Composition 8 (1923). By 1930, Guggenheim owned art by Kandinsky, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Marc Chagall, Fernand Léger, Robert Delaunay, Amedeo Modigliani, and Georges Seurat, among others, and had decided to start his own museum.