Katherine Sophie Dreier

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Katherine Sophie Dreier
Katherine Sophie Dreier - photograph - 1910.jpg
Photograph of Katherine Sophie Dreier, 1910
Born(1877-09-10)September 10, 1877
Brooklyn, New York
DiedMarch 29, 1952(1952-03-29) (aged 74)
EducationPratt Institute, Walter Shirlaw
Known forAbstract art
Katherine Sophie Dreier, Landscape with Figures in Woods or The Avenue, Holland,[1] ca. 1911–12. Oil on canvas, 27 ¼ x 19 in. George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, Springfield, Massachusetts, Gift from the Artist's Estate.
Katherine Sophie Dreier, Abstract Painting of Marcel Duchamp, 1918, Museum of Modern Art, New York

Katherine Sophie Dreier (September 10, 1877 – March 29, 1952) was an American artist, lecturer, patron of the arts and social reformer. Dreier developed an interest in art at a young age and was afforded the opportunity of studying art in the United States and in Europe due to her parents' wealth and progressive attitudes. Her sister Dorothea, a Post-Impressionist painter traveled and studied with her in Europe. She was most influenced by modern art, particularly by her friend Marcel Duchamp, and due to her frustration with the poor reception that the works received, she became a supporter of other artists. She was co-founder of the Society of Independent Artists and the Société Anonyme, which had the first permanent collection of modern art, representing 175 artists and more than 800 works of art. The collection was donated to Yale University. Her works were exhibited in Europe and the United States, including the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art.

Dreier was also an active suffragette, attending the sixth convention of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance in Stockholm, Sweden as a delegate. She was the head of the New York City's German-American Committee of the Woman Suffrage party in 1915 and treasurer of the organization her mother established, German House for Recreation of Women and Children. She co-founded the German House for Recreation of Women and Children, and was its president. Two of her sisters were social reformers, Mary Dreier and Margaret Dreier Robins.

Personal life[edit]

Katherine Sophie Dreier was born in Brooklyn, New York on September 10, 1877. Her parents, Theodor Dreier, a successful businessman, and Dorothea Dreier, were both immigrants from Germany.[2] Her mother's maiden name was Dreier and her parents were cousins from Bremen, Germany. Their ancestors were civic leaders and merchants. Theodor came to the United States in 1849 and became partner of the English iron firm of Naylor, Benson and Company's New York branch. He married Dorothea in 1864 during a visit to Bremen, brought her back with him to the United States, and they lived in a brownstone house in Brooklyn Heights, New York.[3]

Katherine Dreier had an older brother and three older sisters.[2] Two of her sisters, Mary Elisabeth and Margaret were suffragettes and labor reformers. Her sister Dorothea was a Post-Impressionist painter.[3] The family was a warm, close family, and Dreier was especially close to Mary, who she saw as an incredibly good person.[4]

The Dreier's believed in offering the same opportunities to their daughters as would be made available to their son. They were democratic politically and cherished their German traditions.[2] Dreier took art lessons each week when she was 12 years of age and she attended George Brackett, a private school in Brooklyn.[2][4]

Her family was active in social causes in the community[4] and from a young age, Dreier was involved in social and charitable causes.[2] By 1900 her mother founded the German House for Recreation of Women and Children, where Katherine was treasurer on a volunteer basis from 1900 to 1909. She co-founded the Little Italy Neighborhood Association in Brooklyn in 1905 and was its president.[4]

She met and became the fiance of American painter Edward Trumbull, also known as Edward Trumbull-Smith, when she lived in London in 1911. In August 1911, she married him in Brooklyn, but soon learned that he already had a wife and children. The marriage was annulled and she returned to London.[4]

A suffragette, she was involved in the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, attending its sixth convention in Stockholm, Sweden in 1911 as a delegate. She was the head of the New York City's German-American Committee of the Woman Suffrage party in 1915.[2][4]

Dreier was financially secure following receipt of an inheritance after the death of her parents in the late 1890s.[4]


Dreier studied art from 1895 to 1897 at the Brooklyn Art School. In 1900 she studied with her sister Dorothea at the Pratt Institute. She went to Europe in 1902 and traveled and studied the Old Masters there for two years with Mary Quinn and Dorothea. When she returned, Dreier had private lessons from painter Walter Shirlaw, who gave her a great foundation in the fundamentals of art and encouraged individual expression. For a quarter of a year in 1907, Dreier studied with Raphaël Collin in Paris and spent part of a year in 1912 studying under Gustaf Britsch, who she found to be the most accomplished of her teachers.[2][4]


She created an altar painting for the Saint Paul's School chapel in Garden City, New York in 1905.[4] She moved to Chelsea, London, England in 1909, living in a neighborhood that had been associated with Oscar Wilde and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Dreier met writers and artists through Elizabeth Robins, who was the sister of Margaret Dreier Robins' husband, Raymond. While in London, she had periods of illness and doubt.[4]

Dreier returned to London to marry Edward Trumball in August 1911, but was back in England by September, and her marriage was annulled.[4] She had a solo exhibition the month of her return at Doré Galleries in London and another in Frankfurt, Germany in 1912, and while in Germany, she toured the country and studied under Gustaf Britsch. While there, she saw works by Modernists and became particularly interested in modern abstract painting.[2]

Her first exhibit in the United States was at the MacBeth Gallery in New York.[4] Dreier exhibited two oil paintings at the 1913 International Exhibition of Modern Art, Blue Bowl and The Avenue, Holland.[5] There she saw Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, which was considered the "controversial centerpiece of the show." She was frustrated by the lack of respect given to the new, emerging artform. Wassily Kandinsky and Duchamp both influenced her work, which is realized in the Abstract Portrait of Marcel Duchamp that she made in 1918,[2][4] and marked her transition to modern art.[4] The Arts and Crafts inspired workshop and school, Cooperative Mural Workshop, was founded by Dreier in 1914.[4]

Through art collector Walter Arensberg she met avant-garde artists from the United States and Europe when she was co-founder of the Society of Independent Artists in New York City. Duchamp was a central figure in the irreverent group and she became his patron, friend and partner. She exhibited two works in their First Annual Exhibition (April 10-May 6, 1917).[4][6]

Dreier, Duchamp and Dadaist and Surrealist Man Ray founded the Société Anonyme in 1920 for "the study and promotion of modern art," including Cubism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Bauhaus art.[2][4] She was a driving force of the organization — through her financial support and promotional efforts.[2] The Société had its first exhibition on April 30, 1920,[4] and thereafter it promoted artists through the lectures it held, exhibitions it organized, and publications it produced. It promoted the works of Paul Klee, Stanton Macdonald-Wright, Wassily Kandinsky, Heinrich Campendonk, Joan Miró, David Burliuk, Kazimir Malevich and Fernand Léger. The Société held the first permanent collection of modern art in the United States,[nb 1] 175 artists were represented in more than 800 works.[2] Dreier was also member of the Abstraction-Création group.

She wrote the book Western Art in the New Era about modern art, which was published in 1923[2] and reflected her viewpoint, inspired by Kandinsky, that saw "form as the outward expression of inner spiritual meaning." In 1930 and 1931 she lectured at the New School for Social Research and the Rand School.[4] In 1933 a retrospective of her works was held at the Academy of Allied Arts in New York[2] and that year her book, Shawn the Dancer, about her friend and dancer Ted Shawn was published. The show "40 Variations", a 1935 exhibit of music-inspired abstract paintings, included her work.[4]

Duchamp and Dreier presented the Société Anonyme's art collection to Yale University in 1941.[4] She gave a Trowbridge Lecture[nb 2] on the "Intrinsic Significance of Modern Art" in 1948 at Yale University.[2] In 1950 Duchamp and Dreier published a catalog of the Société Anonyme's works donated to Yale.[4]

She supported fellow artists, including helping with publicity and by becoming their patron.[4]

Later years and death[edit]

Dreier's health began to decline, having a "crippling illness", about 1942, but she continued to work, giving lectures and writing. She died on March 29, 1952 in Milford Connecticut as the result of cirrhosis of the liver, which was not due to an alcohol issue.[2][4]


Modern art has known no other so fervent a propagandist.

--Aline Saarinen, art critic[2]

Dreier's major achievement lay neither in her writings nor in her painting, however, but in her early recognition and championship of such artists as Duchamp, and Kandinsky, as well as Klee, Gabo, Villion, Léger and Mondrian, and in her determined attempts to create both an institution and a climate of acceptance for their work.

--Eleanor S. Apter[4]


  1. ^ The Museum of Modern Art was not founded until 1929.[2]
  2. ^ Colonel Rutherford Trowbridge provided an endowment to Yale University in 1899 to fund annual lectures for the Yale Art School.[7]


  1. ^ Megan Fort. Identifying a painting by Katherine Dreier. The Armory Show at 100. The New York Historical Society. Retrieved February 15, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Carol Kort; Liz Sonneborn. A to Z of American Women in the Visual Arts. Infobase Publishing; 1 January 2002. ISBN 978-1-4381-0791-2. p. 55–56.
  3. ^ a b Barbara Sicherman; Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period : a Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press; 1980. ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8. p. 204–205.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Barbara Sicherman; Carol Hurd Green. Notable American Women: The Modern Period : a Biographical Dictionary. Harvard University Press; 1980. ISBN 978-0-674-62733-8. p. 202–204.
  5. ^ Brown, Milton W., The Story of the Armory Show, The Joseph H. Hirshhorn Foundation, 1963, p. 329
  6. ^ "Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, April 10-May 6, 1917". Retrieved 1 February 2014.
  7. ^ "For Art Lectures at Yale; Col. Rutherford Trowbridge Gives an Endowment Fund as a Memorial." New York Times. October 18, 1899. p. 6.

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