Tag Archives: Hilla von Rebay

Art And History On Morningside Drive

Right now, a Guggenheim Museum exhibit features the works of Vasily Kandinsky.

For years though, a Westport estate has had a connection to both the Guggenheim and Kandinsky.

It can be yours for just $4.995 million.

Main house at 77 Morningside Drive South.

The 77 Morningside Drive South property includes a guest house and barn. All told, there are 19 rooms, 8 bedrooms, 8 full baths, and 2 half-baths.

Plus a pool and tennis court.

Sure, you say, I’d love to buy it. But what if the neighbors suddenly cut down trees, or build an ugly McMansion next door?

No worries! The 3 acres of land is surrounded by a 7-acres preserve, owned by Aspetuck Land Trust. You pay for 3 acres, but really get 10.

Aerial view of 77 Morningside Drive South.

The history is as interesting as the property itself. Dating to 1870, and called the Sherwood-Grout house, the original home was bought by Hilla Von Rebay.

Born in Alsace in 1890, her father was a Prussian general. She attended private school in Paris, then dove into the bohemian lifestyles of Munich, Berlin and Paris, before spending time with the Dadaists in Zurich. She had numerous affairs, including one with Hans Arp.

Hilla von Rebay, around 1915.

In 1926, she came to the US. She was soon known as one of the most powerful but also most eccentric women in the art world.

She met Solomon Guggenheim, who was 30 years older and one of America’s wealthiest men. She inspired his interest in art, and advised him on what became his noted and extensive collection,

The pair — with Guggenheim’s wife — traveled throughout Europe. They met Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, and bought hundreds of pieces of art.

Guggenheim and von Rebay rented an apartment at New York’s Plaza Hotel, and put on art exhibits there. They formed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939, and planned a new building on Central Park.

The baroness was influential in selecting Frank Lloyd Wright (who called her a “superwoman”) to design what became the Guggenheim Museum. It took nearly 2 decades to complete, due to problems with finding a proper site, revisions of plans, and material and labor shortages during and after World War II.

Hilla von Rebay with a model of the proposed Guggenheim Museum, 1946.

Von Rebay — who had a 1-bedroom studio at Carnegie Hall — bought the Greens Farms property. She named it Franton Court, in honor of her parents, Franz and Toni. Every year, tulips were shipped from the Netherlands.

She replaced a living room wall with plate glass, offering a full view of the gardens she had created. She hung paintings by famed artists throughout the house, as well as a Calder mobile.

Von Rebay converted the barn into an enormous studio. Her artist friends — Chagall, Kandinsky, Leger and others — came to work there.

Hilla von Rebay in Westport in the 1940s, with Rudolf Bauer, Fernand Legerand and others.

Five years before she died, Von Rebay made plans for a foundation. She recommended that her house be maintained as an art gallery and research facility, so her collection, library and other modern art material could be available to visitors. She also wanted her then-14-acres of land to become a wildlife sanctuary.

The town nixed the museum. So the Guggenheim Museum now owns her paintings — some of which are shown in the current Kandinsky exhibit — along with 10,000 letters.

But the preserve remains.

Unlike some older properties, Von Rebay’s home has been well cared for. With 10-foot ceilings and large rooms, the flow feels very modern.

Kandinskys, Chagalls and Klees no longer hang on the walls. But 77 Morningside Drive South has just about everything else you could want.

Including one of the most fascinating, and little-known, histories in town.

(For more information on 77 Morningside Drive South, click here.) 

Hilla von Rebay: Westport’s Other Baroness

Gabriele von Langendorff — the subject of a recent “06880” story — is not Westport’s only baroness.

Lrt’s not forget Hilla von Rebay.

According to the German website Spiegel, she was “an obsessed patron of art, and the long-time girlfriend of one of the United States’ richest men.”

She also inspired the Guggenheim Museum.

Hilla von Rebay, around 1915.

Hilla von Rebay, around 1915.

Von Rebay was born in Alsace in 1890. Her father was a Prussian general. She attended a private school in Paris, then “dove head first into the bohemian lifestyles of Munich, Berlin, and sometimes Paris, before spending time with the Dadaists in Zurich.” She had “numerous affairs,” including one with Hans Arp.

In 1926, she came to the US. She was soon known as “one of the most powerful but also most eccentric women in the art world.”

She met Solomon Guggenheim — who was 30 years older — and one of America’s wealthiest men. She inspired his interest in art, and advised him on what became his noted and extensive collection,

The pair — with Guggenheim’s “querulous looking wife” — traveled throughout Europe. They met “young and wild” people like Marc Chagall, Paul Klee and Piet Mondrian, and bought hundreds of pieces of art.

Guggenheim and von Rebay rented an apartment at New York’s Plaza Hotel, and put on art exhibits there. They formed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1939, and planned a new building on Central Park.

The baroness was influential in selecting Frank Lloyd Wright (who called her a “superwoman”) to design what became the Guggenheim Museum. It took nearly 2 decades to complete, due to problems with finding a proper site, revisions of plans, and material and labor shortages during and after World War II.

Hilla von Rebay with a model of the proposed Guggenheim Museum, 1946.

Hilla von Rebay with a model of the proposed Guggenheim Museum, 1946.

During the process, von Rebay had a falling-out with the Guggenheim family. “My aunt was a difficult person who liked writing nasty letters,” said her nephew Roland von Rebay. Three years after Guggenheim died in 1949, the family ousted her from the museum’s board of directors.

She was not invited to the opening of the new Upper East Side building in 1959. In fact, she never set foot in it.

That chill thawed in the 2000s. A Guggenheim exhibit showcased “this extremely independent woman.” A book and documentary honored her life and work.

So what’s the Westport connection?

Baroness von Rebay owned an estate at 83 Morningside Drive South, called Franton Court. She bought it in 1937 and retreated there after battling the Guggenheim family, finding solace in her lawns and gardens. Every year, tulips were shipped from the Netherlands.

Hilla von Rebay in Westport in the 1940s, with Rudolf Bauer, Fernand Legerand and others.

Hilla von Rebay in Westport in the 1940s, with Rudolf Bauer, Fernand Legerand and others.

Former Westporter Vivianne Pommier remembers her well. The house was filled with “millions and millions of dollars of art.”

“We would be invited over for lunch or dinner,” Pommier recalls. “She would pull Klees and Kandinskys from behind the toilets. Amazing paintings were crammed into every place possible — on walls, and behind things.”

Hilla von Rebay: a self-portrait.

Hilla von Rebay: a self-portrait.

The Westport Historical Society featured her in a 2005 exhibit. It included her paintings and pochoirs, and works of artists she promoted like Vasily Kandinsky, Rudolph Bauer and Alexander Calder.

Von Rebay died in 1967. She left much of her personal collection to the Guggenheim.

Two acres of her estate — including her home and outbuildings — were sold. Four other acres became building lots.

But 8 1/2 acres of Franton Court are now part of the  Aspetuck Land Trust. Those gardens, specimen trees, wooded wetlands and trails are preserved as a nature and wildlife sanctuary — and are open to the public.

You won’t see any art there. But you will feel connected to one more rich — if long-forgotten — piece of royal Westport history.

Part of the Hilla von Rebay collection.

Part of the Hilla von Rebay Arboretum.