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Baroness Hilla von Rebay, 'Con Fuoco,' which sold for $145,000 ($189,950 with buyer's premium) at Rago.

Hilla Rebay’s ‘Con Fuoco’ shatters estimates to sell for nearly $190K at Rago

LAMBERTVILLE, NJ — Con Fuoco (With Fire), a 1945 oil on canvas by abstract artist Hilla von Rebay, blew away its $20,000-$30,000 presale estimate to hammer for $145,000 and sell for $189,950 with buyer’s premium at Rago on May 22. Complete results for the Post War and Contemporary Art sale are available at LiveAuctioneers.

Con Fuoco is classic Baroness Hilla von Rebay (1890-1967), a talented artist born into aristocracy in the Alsace-Lorraine district of what was then the Imperial German Empire. Early in her art career she showed little interest in abstraction, but after exposure to the 1912 almanac Der Blaue Reiter, given to her by Hans Richter and Jean Arp, she shifted focus. She began to exhibit works in her new style using highly colorful overlapping curved lines, planes, and dots.

She came to New York in 1927, and like most successful artists, found patronage to help propel her career. While working on a portrait of Solomon Guggenheim (1861-1949), she convinced the mining magnate to explore and collect abstract art. She became his personal guide to the genre, and introduced him to a range of abstract painters such as Marc Chagall, Rudolf Bauer, and others.

Soon Guggenheim had amassed the world’s largest and most prominent collection of abstract art. With von Rebay at his side, he opened the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1939, which would be renamed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 1952, the final year of von Rebay’s stewardship of the institution as its founding director.

In 1943, von Rebay was seeking a permanent home for the museum. She contacted architect Frank Lloyd Wright and convinced him to serve as the museum’s designer. The result is the famed Guggenheim Museum in New York, which took 15 years to design and build and is now considered a landmark of 20th-century design. It was not without controversy upon its opening, due to the unusual shape of its architecture.

Con Fuoco began bidding at $12,000, but steadily rose through dozens of competing bids until it maxed out at the highly unanticipated hammer price of $145,000.