Arts Curriculum

Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861–1949) was born into a large, affluent family of Swiss origin, which amassed its fortune in American mining during the 19th century. Guggenheim and his wife Irene Rothchild became enthusiastic patrons of the arts, accumulating a collection of works by Old Masters.

In 1927 Irene commissioned a newly arrived German painter, Hilla Rebay, to paint her husband Solomon’s portrait. Solomon visited Rebay’s studio in Carnegie Hall, where the walls were hung with nonobjective paintings. While Rebay painted Guggenheim’s portrait, she taught him about nonobjective art, a style that uses line, shape, and color to create nonrepresentational imagery. She later wrote, “Guggenheim, who had been collecting paintings by old masters for many years… saw a nonobjective painting and declared ‘By Jove, this is beautiful.’” Impressed by Rebay’s impassioned commitment and lured, perhaps, by the thought of pioneering a relatively untouched area of collecting, Guggenheim began purchasing works of nonobjective art, in addition to modern art.

Please note: Due to exhibition schedules and space constraints, the artworks included in the themes listed below, while part of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, are not always on view at the museum.

Themes

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973): Woman with Yellow Hair
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973): Woman with Yellow Hair
Jackson Pollock (1912–1956): Enchanted Forest
Jackson Pollock (1912–1956): Enchanted Forest
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841–1919): Woman with Parrot
Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841–1919): Woman with Parrot
Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940): Place Vintimille
Edouard Vuillard (1868–1940): Place Vintimille

Overview


Please note: Due to exhibition schedules and space constraints, the artworks included in the themes listed below, while part of the Guggenheim’s permanent collection, are not always on view at the museum.

During the spring of 1929, Hilla Rebay and Mr. and Mrs. Guggenheim traveled to Europe, where they visited the studios of many artists. During that trip, Guggenheim purchased his first piece of non-objective art, Vasily Kandinsky’s Composition 8 (1923), the first of more than 150 works by the artist to enter the collection. 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. Hilla Rebay eventually became Solomon Guggenheim’s chief art adviser, and later the first director of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting and its successor, the Guggenheim Museum.

Although founded to exhibit non-objective art, through the years the museum has enlarged its collection to include major gifts from several donors in various areas of modern and contemporary art. The current collection includes six very different private collections:


• Solomon R. Guggenheim’s collection of non-objective painting premised on a belief in the spiritual dimensions of pure abstraction;

• Peggy Guggenheim’s collection of Surrealist and abstract painting and sculpture, housed in her former residence in Venice, Italy;

• Justin K. Thannhauser’s array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early modern masterpieces, selections from which are on permanent view in the museum’s Thannhauser wing;

• Karl Nierendorf’s holdings in German Expressionism;

• Katherine S. Dreier’s paintings and sculptures of the historic avant-garde;

• Dr. Giuseppe Panza di Biumo’s vast holdings of European and American Minimalist, Post-Minimalist, Environmental, and Conceptual art.

Over the years the museum’s directors and curators have acquired additional works to form a richly layered collection dating from the late 19th century to the present. Today, the Guggenheim is a museum in multiple locations with access to shared collections, common constituencies, and joint programming. Nevertheless, it is the permanent collection that constitutes the very core of the institution.

Portions of this resource unit have been adapted from essays by Lucy Flint Gohlke, Cornelia Lauf, and Nancy Spector. (Nancy Spector, Guggenheim Museum Collection A to Z [New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2001] p. 387).