Emily Hall Tremaine: collector on the cusp
Emily Hall Tremaine had "an original eye" recalled Philip Johnson, her friend, architect, and occasionally rival collector. Tremaine's ability to cut through the turbulence of contemporary art from the 1940s through the 1980s filled Johnson with amazement and envy. "She had tunnel vision. It was art. That was her universe."
Born in 1908 in the mining town of Butte, Montana, Emily grew up in a world where the natural was ugly and the abstract, beautiful. She began collecting in the 1930s when she was married to Baron Maximilian Von Romberg, a young dare-devil who flew planes, drove cars, and rode polo ponies, all with reckless abandon. She herself had a wild streak that led her to walk on the wing of a plane, wear shocking outfits to posh parties, and publish a magazine that tweaked the sensitivities of the upper class.
After the Baron's death in a plane crash, Emily's fascination with art increased, but it was not until her marriage to Burton G. Tremaine, Sr., in 1945 that she began to collect in earnest. Eventually the Tremaine collection of more than 400 works became, according to art historian Robert Rosenblum, "so museum-worthy that it alone could recount to future generations the better part of the story of 20th century art." Among its major pieces were Piet Mondrian's Victory Boogie-Woogie, Mark Rothko's Number 8, and Jasper John's Three Flags.
Emily visited artists' studios and scoured galleries in a relentless search for the best. Her ability to spot new talent was legendary. When she turned her eye on an artist, his or her career was given an immediate boost. For example, in the early 1960s she championed an unknown graphic designer named Andy Warhol, acquiring fifteen of his works in one year, helping to fuel his rapid rise to fame.
By the time of her death in 1987, the collection was worth more than $84 million. However, during her life, it was the art itself, not its value, that mattered. She told an interviewer, "It's an enormous joy to come into this apartment and be so tired I can barely drag my feet. The beauty and vitality that greet me is just pure joy. I love it, and I guess that's enough to ask of anything, isn't it?"
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