Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rudolf Bauer and Hilla von Rebay

 Rudolf Bauer, Con Brio IV, 1917

Rudolf Bauer (1889-1953) was born in 1889 in Lindenwald, a town in Silesia that is now part of Poland. His family moved to Berlin in the 1890s. Bauer was an avid artist from an early age. When the moment arrived to discuss his desire to go to art school, his father, disapproving of this choice, beat him so brutally that Bauer ran away from home, never to return. In 1905 Bauer began his studies at the Berlin Academy of Art but left the Academy only a few months later to educate himself. The upshot was paintings, caricatures and comical drawings, which were published in "Berliner Tageblatt", "Ulk" and "Le Figaro".

"Der Sturm" (October 1917) with cover art by Rudolf Bauer

From 1912 Bauer contributed to the magazine and Gallery Der Sturm (The Storm) founded by Herwarth Walden and pivotal to German Expressionism and the international avant-garde. In 1915 Rudolf Bauer participated for the first time in a group show at Walden's gallery. By 1915-16 Bauer had switched to an abstract pictorial idiom, which is markedly influenced by Kandinsky. After the war ended, Bauer was a founder member of the November Group although he did not collaborate closely with the group. In the early 1920s Bauer was also preoccupied with Russian Constructivism as well as the Dutch De Stijl group. 

Hilla von Rebay, Composition I, 1915

The Baroness Hilla von Rebay, daughter of an aristocratic Prussian officer, moved in 1917 to Berlin from Zurich, where she had been studying arts. Her former lover, Jean Arp, had given her an introduction to Der Sturm the previous year. No longer romantically involved with Arp, Rebay met Bauer at the gallery and was courted by him. In 1919 they moved into a studio together at 25 Ahornallee in Berlin's fashionable Westend. This marked the beginning of their tempestuous lifelong relationship. By 1922 Bauer had shown work at about eight exhibitions mounted by Der Sturm. From 1918 he also taught at the Der Sturm art school, where Paul Klee was also an instructor. The early twenties were a prolific period for Bauer. In addition to his Non-Objective work he completed many representational pastels depicting the horrors of World War I and scenes of daily life in postwar Berlin.

Rudolf Bauer, Untitled, c. 1920

In September of 1930, flush with money from sales of his work, Bauer decided the time was right to establish a new art salon in Berlin. Named Das Geistreich (The Realm of the Spirit), Bauer conceived it as a "temple of non-objectivity," a sanctuary where well-heeled buyers would congregate to choose works for their collections. It was the first museum in the world dedicated to Non-Objective art, featuring primarily the works of Bauer and Kandinsky. Marinetti, the Italian Futurist painter, visited Das Geistreich to inaugurate one of the exhibitions and a professional photographer was employed to document the event:

Marinetti (left) and Rudolf Bauer in Bauer's Geistreich Gallery, early 1930s

Rebay, inspired by Bauer's Das Geistreich, lobbied Solomon Guggenheim to consider founding his own museum. In 1936 Guggenheim's collection became the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, with Rebay as its director.  In 1936 she organised a touring exhibition of non-representational European art that included sixty Rudolf Bauer oil paintings and watercolours.

In this photo taken in August 1945, architect Frank Lloyd Wright (left) shows the plan of Guggenheim Museum to Solomon Guggenheim and Hilla von Rebay. Baroness Rebay, was the tour de force behind the creation of the museum. She chose Frank Lloyd Wright to design the museum, and also found the current site for the museum’s residence.

In 1938, upon his return from an exhibition of his work in Paris, Bauer was arrested by the Nazis for his "degenerate" art and for speculating on the black market - meaning selling his work to Guggenheim. The previous year Bauer’s work had been included in the infamous Degenerate Art show in Munich. Upon his arrest Bauer was held in a Gestapo prison for several months, as Rebay and Guggenheim worked to free him.  In 1939, traveling with a suitcase filled with cash and escorted by her uncle who was a General in the German Army, the Baroness was able to purchase Bauer's unconditional release and deportation to the United States with his entire household and studio intact. It is also rumored that Marinetti, who had the ear of Mussolini, put in a good word for the incarcerated artist. Bauer arrived in New York a conquering hero of the artworld, with invitations to lecture on Non-Objective Art at both Harvard and Yale. 

Rudolf Bauer, Pink Circle, 1938

Rudolf Bauer's work was exhibited several times at the Guggenheim Foundation before his death in 1952. His work, which had been consigned to virtual oblivion after 1960 in both the US and Europe, has been enjoying a renascence of interest worldwide since the 1980s. You can see many more of his works at Weinstein Gallery.

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