Greatest Art Collectors Series:
Solomon R Guggenheim

Biography of Abstract Art Collector, Founder of Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Many of the paintings collected
by Solomon R Guggenheim are
available online as Poster Art.

Solomon R Guggenheim (1861-1949)

Solomon Guggenheim was one of the most celebrated and influential of all American art collectors. Guided by his friend Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenweisen (1890-1967), he focused his attention on non-objective art (abstract art) by 20th-century abstract painters, representing movements like Cubism (fl.1908-12), Orphism (fl.1910-13), Futurism (fl.1909-14), Suprematism (fl.1913-18), Constructivism (fl.1919-32) and De Stijl (Neo-Plasticism) (fl.1917-31). In order to manage his growing art collection, and to encourage the appreciation of modern art, in 1937 he established the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, which opened the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, in New York. In 1951, the name of the Museum was changed to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which opened in October 1959 in new premises designed by the celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright on 1071 5th Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Along with the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, the Guggenheim is the leading public gallery of modernist art in America, and one of New York's most famous architectural landmarks.

Paul Durand-Ruel (1831-1922)
Greatest collector of Impressionism.
Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898)
Greatest collector of Russian art.
Isabella Stewart Gardner (1840-1924)
Boston decorative/fine art collector.
Sergei Shchukin (1854-1936)
Patron of Matisse, Picasso.
Ambroise Vollard (1866-1939)
First modern dealer in Paris.
Ivan Morozov (1871-1921)
Russian collector of Cezanne, Bonnard.
Dr Albert C Barnes (1872-1951)
America's greatest art collector.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942)
Founder of Whitney Museum, NY.
Samuel Courtauld (1876-1947)
Collector, Impressionist paintings.

Daniel-Henri Kahnweiler (1884-1979)
Dealer of Picasso & Cubism.
Duncan Phillips (1886-1966)
Founder of Phillips Collection.
Paul Guillaume (1891-1934)
Dealer of Ecole de Paris paintings.
J Paul Getty (1892-1976)
Oil tycoon, art/antiquities collector.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979)
Collected modern abstract art.
Leo Castelli (1907-99)
Leading New York art dealer.
Charles Saatchi (b.1943)
Collects contemporary art.

For a list of the Top 10 painters/
sculptors: Best Artists of All Time.
For the best oils/watercolours,
see: Greatest Paintings Ever.

Family and Career

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Solomon Robert was the fourth son of Meyer Guggenheim (1828-1905) who, together with his eldest son Daniel Guggenheim (1856-1930), established a global family mining and smelting business. Solomon himself joined the business in his 20s after studying in Switzerland, and later founded the Yukon Gold Company in Alaska.

In 1919 he retired from mining and devoted his time and much of his vast wealth to collecting works of avant-garde art.

During the late 1920s, he was greatly influenced by his friend the Alsatian-born painter Hilla von Rebay, who persuaded him to specialize in buying abstract paintings, by 20th-century painters like Fernand Leger (1881-1955), Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), Paul Klee (1879-40), Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), and Piet Mondrian (1872-1944).

For an outstanding collection of
Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Oriental
Judaica, crafts and artifacts,
see: Jewish Art Museum.

For details of the greatest galleries
and arts venues, see:
Best Art Museums.

For a guide to the different,
categories/meanings of visual
arts, see: Definition of Art.
For a list of different categories,
see: Types of Art.

Museum of Non-Objective Painting

To begin with Guggenheim showed his exhibits in his apartment, then in 1937, in order to better manage his growing collection, he set up the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, a charitable corporation dealing in philanthropy and the arts. Its stated aim was the promotion and encouragement of art, and education in art, and two years later, in 1939, it opened the Museum of Non-Objective Painting on East 54th Street, Manhattan, New York. The museum's President was Solomon Guggenheim and its founding curator was Hilla von Rebay, whose acquisitions policy maintained the strict focus on painting - rather than sculpture, or decorative art - and 20th-century concrete art - excluding all 19th century figurative painting. This would not be relaxed until Rebay's "retirement" in 1951.


Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

As Guggenheim's art collection continued to expand, with the acquisition of works by Modigliani (1884-1920), Picasso (1881-1973) and others, larger premises were needed for its display. Thus in 1943 Hilla Rebay commissioned the iconic designer Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), to build a permanent home for the museum. Delays in the design of the building and the sourcing of materials required meant that construction had still not started by the time of Guggenheim's death in 1949. As it was, construction finally began in 1956, and the museum opened in October 1959. Meantime, in 1948 the Foundation purchased the collection of the late New York art dealer Karl Nierendorf, mainly representing the movements of Expressionism and Surrealism, and featuring paintings by Klee, Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Joan Miro (1893-1983).

Broadening the Collection

In 1951, the directors of the Foundation forced Rebay to step down as Museum Director, and changed the name of the museum to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Both actions reflected a clear intent to broaden the scope of the collection to admit sculpture and other types of avant garde art apart from abstract painting. Indeed, in 1953, the Museum acquired sculptures by artists including Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Alberto Giacometti (1901-66), and David Smith (1906-65), as well as Man with Crossed Arms (1889) by Cezanne. Today, the Guggenheim Museum's permanent collection includes a variety of sculpture along with 19th-century paintings including works of Impressionism and Post-Impressionism.

The Guggenheim Brand

Solomon had several children including Eleanor Mary Guggenheim (1896–1992) (who became Lady Castle Stewart after marrying Arthur Stuart, 7th Earl Castle Stewart), and Gertrude R. Guggenheim (1898–1966). Also, he was the uncle of Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim (1898-1979), herself an art collector, dealer and museum curator, who lived in London and Paris before returning to New York where she opened the Art of This Century gallery. Later she settled in Italy where she founded the Venice Guggenheim - now operated by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In addition to New York and Venice, the Foundation also operates the Berlin Guggenheim, the Bilbao Guggenheim as well as a new branch in Las Vegas, lending weight to the proposition that "Guggenheim" is now a global brand in the world of contemporary art.

For more about the people involved in the evolution of abstract painting and sculpture, see: History of Art.

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