Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Aline Meyer Liebman; The 31 Women Number Twenty Seven was born in 1879.

Aline Meyer Liebman 1879-1966. American painter, photographer, collector and patron.

Aline Meyer Liebman
(photograph from the cover of
her daughter's book)
At 64, Aline Meyer Liebman was the oldest of the artists who exhibited at the Exhibition by 31 Women. As an artist, she is unknown. Like Peggy Guggenheim, Aline’s main importance was as a dedicated collector and patron of artists and galleries. A number of other wealthy American women were keen supporters of modern art during its eatly years, including Katherine Dreier, Florine Stettheimer and Louise Arensberg. Aline Meyer was the earliest, beginning her collecting before 1900 and continuing to support modern art, particularly photography, for more than sixty years.

Aline recorded in her diary on 11 December1942, that Max Ernst and Peggy Guggenheim visited her studio to choose a painting for the forthcoming Exhibition by 31 Women. This was unusual, Ernst is usually said to have visited the women artists alone and although Peggy and Aline probably knew each other, there is no indication that they were more than acquaintances. Also unusual was this particular artist's reluctance to lend the pictures they wanted.

Aline was preparing for a one woman show at the Weyhe Gallery which would coincide the Exhibition by 31 Women. Unlike many of the younger artists involved, Aline was not a beginner, nor was she an unknown in need of the publicity which came with association with Peggy's fashionable gallery, She herself eventually selected 'Story in Paint' as the most suitable. This was an abstract painted eight years earlier - a triptych painted on Masonite, it reveals that she was not averse to experiments with abstraction and modern materials. Story in Paint was exhibited again in 1947 at Aline’s last solo exhibition at the Weyhe Gallery. It seems to have been exhibited again, with nine of her other paintings, at the Richard York Gallery, New York City, before being donated in 1992 to the Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona. It is not on display and its whereabouts are currently certain.
Born in 1879 in Los Angeles, Aline Meyer was the daughter of Marc Eugene Meyer and Harriet Newmark Meyer. Aline painted during her California childhood and once the family arrived in New York City in 1893, she enrolled in Barnard College, Columbia University and also took private 
drawing lessons. She then attended the Art Students’ League where she learned portraiture, which would form a significant aspect of her output as a painter. She also learned tempera painting with renowned teacher Stephan Hirsch. A portrait of Aline by Hirsch has a hard edged, colour block style, this style influenced some of Aline’s own painting.
Aline Meyer began collecting art in her teens and developed a passion for modern decorative craft
work and Oriental art several years before her marriage, in 1908, to Charley Liebman. Their daughter Margaret Liebman Berger, published a monograph on her mother’s art, patronage and collecting in 1982 (see below). As well as fine art paintings, prints and sculpture, Aline collected fine modern examples of furniture, textiles, glassware, china, jewellery and books. Although her collecting provided invaluable support for numerous artists, this is not the main reason her enthusiasm for the arts was so important. Most significantly for posterity, Aline also studied photography at the Clarence White School of Photography.

 Aline Meyer Liebman was one of the earliest patrons to recognise the artistic importance of the photographic image in modern art, and it was undoubtedly Clarence White who sparked her lifelong interest in modern photography. In the nineteenth century, ‘artistic’ photographs had aped the compositions of romantic and classical painting; even after 1900 most photographers were still failing to recognise the untapped creative potential of their medium.

In New York one photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, was to challenge this lack of imagination and Aline Meyer Liebman was an unstinting supporter. Stieglitz’ 291 Gallery on Fifth Avenue, originally opened as ‘the Little Gallery of the Photo-Secession in 1905, was of immeasurable importance to the development of photography as a modern American art-form. From 1913, Aline provided funding when Stieglitz needed it and was reluctant to accept offers from elsewhere, for fear of compromising his creative independence. 

Stieglitz moved his New York gallery a number of times, each time it reappeared under a new name, its best known incarnation was An American Place. Aline continually provided unstinting support and through him she also supported individual artists and photographers. In addition to Stieglitz’ own work, she collected early photographs by Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand. As a pioneer in the collecting of early twentieth century photographs, in 1978 her acquisitions were acknowledged as of national importance by Beaumont Newhall, curator at MoMA in NewYork.
Whilst not known for holding ‘salon evenings’, the Liebmans would invite artist friends and others to join informal family meals. Such visitors included Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera and Alfred Stieglitz and his wife Emmy who visited often. Stieglitz was still welcome even after he and Emmy were divorced in 1918 because of his relationship with painter Georgia O’Keefe. O’Keefe was eventually invited too, but only after she and Stieglitz were married in 1924.
Despite many distractions, Aline still enjoyed painting and her daughter remembered that she spent two or more hours each morning in her studio. She sketched and painted prolifically during extended visits to Europe between 1925 and 1935 and she took part in several group exhibitions with the Salons of America. Her work shows the effect of her European visits, particularly influential were the outlines and vivid colour in the work of Gauguin and Matisse.

Aline Meyer Liebman had her first solo exhibition in 1937, at the Walker Gallery in New York; she exhibited landscape, interior and still life subjects, mainly in tempera. Her paintings received complementary reviews and her style was compared to Raoul Dufy, though some critics perhaps muted their praise by emphasising her ‘good taste.’ She was notoriously reluctant to part with her paintings, but did sell a few. Her final solo exhibition was in 1947 and included several portraits.
Though she exhibited her photographs less frequently than her paintings, Aline Meyer Liebman was no dilettante photographer. Having learnt the techniques in Clarence White’s photographic school she created her own darkroom at home and was perfectly able to develop and print her own photographs, a crucial aspect of the photographer's art. Aline remained interested in photography throughout her life, though spending less time on it than her painting. She showed her photographs with Stieglitz and in 1944, three were exhibited at MoMA.

Aline's enthusiasm for the modern idiom had led her to be a founder of the New York based MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), contributing at its inception in 1929 with both finance and her time. In 1934 she assisted with the museum’s outreach project in Westchester, loaning items from her collection to exhibitions. She served on various of the museum’s committees for many years and remained concerned with the practical expansion of MoMA’s remit including, in 1948, a substantial donation specifically for the purchase of photographic work by younger artists.
Much earlier her patronage had extended to financial assistance for the Young Women’s Hebrew Association (known as ‘The Y’), where from 1917 she arranged and funded art classes specifically for young women. Her views on feminism are unknown but certainly her enthusiastic support for the female students of the Y shows her concern. In 1944 she design a poster for the New York League of Women Voters, urging women to use their vote and defend their freedom.

Following on from the Y, Aline established the Handwork Center in the 1920’s. This philanthropic venture housed workshops and a gallery/shop, providing a commercial outlet for impoverished and disabled artists and craft-workers. She was also involved in many smaller projects to support artists, arranging short exhibitions and sales, funding individual artists and putting them in touch with potential purchasers. She only began to reduce her altruistic activities when she was in her seventies, and she died in 1966, aged eighty-seven years.

Her photographs are held in the Library of Congress, Coville Collection and the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, her paintings are mainly in private hands. Aline Meyer Liebman' greatest legacy lies in her unstinting support of Steiglitz, the man who kick-started the USA’s creation of its own modern art and photography and in her vital early support for the New York Museum of Modern Art, culminating in the internationally important MoMA of today.

Sources include:-
Margaret Liebman Berger - "Aline Meyer Liebman; Pioneer Collector and Artist" published in 1982 by W.F. Humphrey Press.

The Aline Meyer Liebman Papers in the Smithsonian - http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/aline-meyer-liebman-papers-9850

Comments, corrections and further information about Aline Meyer Liebman are very welcome.  I would like to know her exact birth-date and the whereabouts of her picture, Story in Paint. Please do contact me!
You can read about the remaining members of the 31 Women as their birthdays arrive, only four left now! Earlier artists will remain on this blog.


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