Just prior to 1920 in Berlin, a group of young artists began to coalesce around the notion that a painting need not depict a subject - that perhaps a work of art could more directly and earnestly address a viewer through the arrangement of its formal elements. Among this group, which centered at the gallery Der Sturm, was a young baroness, studio-educated in Paris and mentored by Jean Arp, named Hildegard Rebay von Ehrenweisen, or as she was less formally known, Hilla Rebay. Rebay was the first among her contemporaries to move to the U.S., in 1927. In New York, she met Solomon Guggenheim, who commissioned her to paint his portrait in 1928. As he sat for the painting in her studio, Guggenheim learned Rebay’s thoughts on what had come to be known as Non-Objective Art - the new, lyrical, subjectless brand of abstraction that had not yet made it to American collections and museums. Guggenheim was fascinated, and with Rebay as an intermediary, he began to acquire all he could from the Berlin and Moscow non-objective abstractionists, and thus began the collection that would become the Museum of Non-Objective Art, the first iteration of the Guggenheim Foundation.
Hilla Rebay created large-scale, non-objective works in the decades that followed her immigration to the United States, and her style, gently colored with undulating lines and sparse, organic forms, is exemplary of the movement she championed.
While a skilled, educated, and prolific painter in her own right, Rebay is best known to history as the first director and curator of the Guggenheim Foundation, and the facilitator of enormous acquisitions by Solomon Guggenheim of works by her peers.