Rudolf Bauer, German (1889 - 1953)

Rudolf Bauer was born in Lindenwald near Bromberg, Silesia, in 1889 but his family moved only a few years later to Berlin. In 1905 Bauer began his studies at the Berlin Academy of Art but left the Academy only a few months later to educate himself. Born to middle class parents, Rudolf Bauer family moved to Berlin in his youth. Bauer made art from an early age, but his father was disapproving, even beating him when Bauer announced his intention to go to art school. In spite of this discouragement Bauer left home and attended the Academy of Fine Arts. The upshot was paintings, caricatures and comical drawings, which were published in 'Berliner Tageblatt', 'Ulk' and 'Le Figaro'. From 1912 Bauer contributed to the magazine and Gallery 'Der Sturm' founded by Herwarth Walden and pivotal to German Expressionism and the international avant-garde.

Bauer supported himself as an artist by creating illustrations and caricatures for some of the major magazines and newspapers of the day. In 1912, as Bauer continued to do figurative and commercial work, he began working in an abstract mode. That same year he met Herwarth Walden, who had just founded Der Sturm. Der Sturm would become the most important artistic center in Berlin at this period. In 1915 Bauer was invited to participate in a group show at Der Sturm. He would continue to actively participate in the Der Sturm gallery scene through the mid-1920s. He had his first solo show there in 1917, with 120 “Lyrical Abstract” works, with solo shows in 1919 and 1920. Among the artists who were in the Der Sturm group were Vasily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, and Franz Marc. Like Paul Klee, Bauer became a teacher in the Sturm School.

In 1917 Bauer was introduced to the Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen. Rebay, also an artist, met Bauer at Der Sturm, and they became lovers. Bauer and Rebay shared a studio beginning in 1919, but her family did not approve of Bauer. In the early 1920s she traveled to Italy. She and Bauer would continue to write to one another regularly, but their relationship became platonic, though still fraught with difficulties.

In 1915 Rudolf Bauer participated for the first time in a group show at Walden's gallery and met Hilla von Rebay, with whom he entered on a relationship of many years that was crucial to Bauer's later work. 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, of which Georg Muche was the director. After the war ended, Bauer was a founder member of the 'November Group' although he did not collaborate closely with the group.

In 1919 Bauer joined forces with the painter and architect Otto Nebel and Hilla von Rebay to found the artists' association 'Die Krater'. Impressionist at the outset, Bauer's early work reveals Cubist and Expressionist influences. By 1915/16 Bauer had switched to an abstract pictorial idiom, which is markedly influenced by Kandinsky.

In the early 1920s Bauer was also preoccupied with Russian Constructivism as well as the Dutch de Stijl group. Bauer remained in Berlin in the 1920s and continued to make both abstract, or as the movement came to be known, “Non-Objective” art [a translation of the German gegenstandslos], as well as figurative work to support himself. In 1927 Hilla Rebay traveled to the United States. A year later she began a portrait commission of copper magnate Solomon R. Guggenheim. Rebay showed Guggenheim Non-Objective art by Bauer and Kandinsky, and he decided to start a collection of the work.

In 1930 Solomon Guggenheim and his wife, Irene, traveled with Rebay to Germany to meet Bauer and Kandinsky. By this point, Bauer’s work had moved from lyrical to geometric abstraction, which would dominate the rest of his artistic career. Guggenheim bought several of Bauer’s new works and also put him on a stipend, which allowed Bauer to open his own museum for his work and the work of other Non-Objective painters such as Kandinsky. He called his museum Das Geistreich, or “The Realm of the Spirit.”

In 1936 Guggenheim formed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation for his collection, with Rebay as its official curator. The Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina, hosted the first public showing of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection of Non-Objective Paintings. Bauer traveled to the United States for the first time to be present at the opening of the exhibition. From that show a solo show of his work traveled to the Arts Club of Chicago, where he also visited. There would be yearly showings of this collection for the next four years at various museums.

Bauer's decided preference for non-representational painting culminated in 1929 with the foundation of a private museum, 'Das Geistreich', which he directed as a salon for abstract art. Political developments in Germany forced Bauer to sell some of his work in America from 1932. His agent in America was Hilla von Rebay, who was by now director of the Guggenheim Collection. In 1936 she organised a touring exhibition of non-representational European art that included sixty Rudolf Bauer oil paintings and watercolours.

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, organized by the Nazis to show all the deviant, abstract art. In spite of this Bauer had refused to move from his home country. Upon his arrest Bauer was held in a Gestapo prison for several months, as Rebay and Guggenheim worked to free him. After several false starts, he was finally released unconditionally in August of 1938. During his time in prison, he created dozens of non-objective drawings on scavenged scraps of paper. He spent the next months getting his paperwork in order and made the difficult decision to leave his homeland, emigrating to the United States in July of 1939, just months before the beginning of World War II.

After Rudolf Bauer emigrated to the US in 1939, his work was exhibited several times at the Guggenheim Foundation before his death in 1952. Rudolf Bauer's comprehensive œuvre, 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.

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