German émigré and impresario Galka Scheyer in LA

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(L) Wassily Kandinsky, "Sketch for ‘Deluge I,'" early 1912
(R) Emil Nolde (German, 1867-1956), "Head in Profile," 1919

There is an impressive list of European émigrés who, in the 1920s and 30s, moved to the United States and ultimately settled here in California. Among them, writers Thomas Mann and Lion Feuchtwanger; composers Igor Stravinsky and Arnold Schoenberg. But how many of you recognize the name of Galka Scheyer (1889–1945) –– another German émigré who became a "trailblazing impresario who helped shape California as a burgeoning center for modern art"?

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(L) Alexei Jawlensky (Russian, 1864-1941), "Reclining Nude," c. 1912
(R) Emil Nolde, "Man and Woman," 1912

A new exhibition at the Norton Simon Museum tells Galka Scheyer's life story through the display of about a hundred artworks from her personal collection. She was born in Germany as Emille Esther Scheyer to a middle-class Jewish family, and as was expected from a young woman of the time, studied piano and painting. But her life changed when she saw an exhibition of the Russian avant-garde artist Alexei Jawlensky, with whom she developed a particularly strong friendship.

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Photographs from the Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection Archives
and the Estate of Alexander Hammid

As a term of endearment, he started to call her Galka, a Russian word describing a charming little bird. And that's the name she went by in the U.S., her adopted country. Besides Jawlensky, she established a close association with Lyonel Feininger, Paul Klee, and Wassily Kandinsky. She referred to this group of artists as the Blue Four and started actively promoting their works after moving to California in 1925.

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(L) Paul Klee (Swiss, 1879-1940), "Idol for House Cats," 1924
(R) Paul Klee's cat Frizi, 1921

She arranged exhibitions, organized lectures, and published books about their art, as well as negotiated sales on their behalf. Learning all of that, one naturally wants to compare her to Peggy Guggenheim –– another adventurous art aficionado who was ahead of her time in discovering, falling in love with, and promoting modern art. Looking at photographs of Scheyer in her Hollywood home designed by Richard Neutra, one can see her as a down-to-earth and charming person with an obvious sense of humor. It's simply impossible not to giggle seeing two small works by Paul Klee side-by-side –– a painted portrait of his favorite cat next to his photograph of this very cat.

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(L) Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973), "Woman with a Guitar," 1931
(R) Diego Rivera (Mexican, 1886-1957), Blue Boy with the Banana, 1931

I was pleasantly surprised to see such diversity within her collection. There is a small, early figurative painting by Diego Rivera and a cubist composition by Picasso. There is a rare sculpture by Alexander Archipenko, another Russian avant-garde artist. And, here's the one piece which I absolutely didn't expect to see: a work by Beatrice Wood –– a famous Los Angeles ceramicist and sculptor, represented here with a rare small figurative drawing –– a humorous portrait of Galka Scheyer.

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(L) Beatrice Wood (American, 1893-1998), "Portrait of Galka Scheyer," 1934
(R) Alexander Archipenko (Russian/American, 1887-1964), "Suzanne," 1907

For any of you who might dream of becoming an art collector, this exhibition is the way to inform and inspire you how to proceed. Go around, see as much art as possible, get to know artists. Get out of your comfort zone: be inspired, challenged, and surprised. And, let me know if you want to join my Fine Art of Art Collecting seminars and learn more about the amazing Los Angeles art scene.