Art is her life
Art is Hildegard's raison d'être. It never occurred to her that she should question what she does or how much she enjoys working for art. She has so far dedicated 76 years (77 this November, she wanted to point out) to the Galerie St. Etienne, New York City and the German and Austrian expressionists who are the gallery’s specialty, including Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Paula Moderson Becker and Käthe Kollwitz. There are also self-taught artists such as Grandma Moses, with whom Hildegard worked closely up until the time of the artist's death.
Hildegard was born on April 3, 1921 in Mannheim, Germany, the youngest of 2 girls. Her parents raised their daughters with strong moral values, respect for education and a love of sports. Hildegard has fond memories of her family outings, hiking in the hills near Heidelberg. She described her father as a frugal, straightforward and honorable man who made his living as a lawyer. Even so, her family lived in modest circumstances due to a dismal economic situation in Germany at the time. Things did not improve for them until 1931. Two years later, the Nazis came to power. Her family then faced another kind of problem, which progressively got worse for all Jewish people of the time. Hildegard illustrated the impact it had on her as a child. "I was 12 years old and played with dolls but I quickly put them away. My whole generation grew up overnight. And: " I always felt I was German, I was attached to German culture but under the Swastika we were Jews twenty four hours a day". Her father, unlike many others, was acutely aware of the looming crisis and was determined to get his family out of Germany. A maternal uncle living in Chicago provided affidavits for Hildegard and her sister, but his unawareness of the mounting and dangerous circumstances in Germany made him decline securing visas for her parents. The family boarded ship to New York but her mother and father were forced to return several weeks later, to a hostile Germany. It was only after the fateful Kristallnacht, when their home was ransacked, that their visas came through, this time through another distant family member who lived in Westchester County. The family reunited in March, 1939.
Hildegard did well in school, went to summer camp in Maryland and managed to meet other German refugees through her Zionist group back home, who put her in contact with members living in New York. One of them was Peter Selz, with whom she went on a hitch hiking tour in the summer of 1937 through New Hampshire. Peter's grandparents were gallery owners in Munich and it was with him that Hildegard discovered the New York art scene. Together, they visited art galleries, museums and exhibitions. There were many German art dealers specializing in works they already knew about.
She had expected America to be “a country of gangsters and millionaires,” she recalled, but found Manhattan to be full of museums and vibrant art galleries. She learned English, finished high school and found work as a secretary at the Nierendorf gallery, where she took on the task of organizing an inventory of paintings in disarray and was asked to correspond with prominent artists like Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee.
Through working at the Nierendorf, she met Otto Kallir, an art dealer who founded the Neue Galerie in Vienna in 1923 and fled the Nazis in late 1930s. He hired her as his secretary at Galerie St. Etienne, but over the years “it really became a partnership,” she said. She helped him promote Schiele, Klimt and Kokoschka, who were up until then, unknown artists in the United States. Their first shows were flops and it was not until the late 1950's that interest in these artists began to generate. " We really put them on the map", as she put it. Hildegard and Otto Kallir helped work for the restitution of Nazi-looted artwork, which is still one of the gallery's activities today. She is presently co-director of the gallery with Jane Kallir, Otto Kallir’s granddaughter.
“We don’t do pretty pictures — our art is tough,” she said. At the same time Hildegard is proud to say that the mission of the gallery is to work in the interest of the artists they represent.
The exhibition, on view at the gallery at the time of this interview, was "The Woman Question". It sadly ended this June 30th, 2017. The exhibition explored different perspectives of women through the eyes of Austrian artists Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka in the early twentieth century. Each artist managed to break away from convention by exploring women as unique, sensual, and intense subject matter. In doing so, these artists left us a legacy of creative individualism and a very different sensibility to women through their art.
Their next show starting July 11th: “Recent Acquisitions”, is an overview of the gallery’s exhibition activities. On view will be works by: Leonard Baskin, Max Beckman, Otto Dix, Erich Heckel, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Georg Kolbe, Kathe Kollwitz, Anna Mary Robertson (“Grandma”) Moses , Marie-Louise Motesiczky, Otto Mueller, Emil Nolde, Egon Schiele and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff.
Please watch the interview with Hildegard Bachert, she is my iconic woman of the month and of many to come! She is a warm and lively person I am sure you will love and is really an inspiration to us all.
If you are in New York, or plan to stay, I highly recommend you visit the Galerie St. Etienne at 24, West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019. Telephone: (212) 245-6734
Hours: Tue-Fri, 11 am - 5 pm. (It is always recommended to call before going, to ensure there are works on view or to speak to one of the directors).
Click on the photo above the video to see the other photos of the show. You can leave your comments below and please, subscribe to my website to get the latest news.