Emilie Esther Scheyer (1889–1945), born to a middle-class Jewish family in Braunschweig, Germany, was training to become a painter, but after meeting Alexei Jawlensky (1864–1941) in 1916, she transformed herself from artist to art impresario. Jawlensky affectionately called the insightful and energetic Scheyer “Galka” from the Russian word for jackdaw, a clever and gregarious bird. Through Jawlensky, Scheyer entered into the vibrant arts communities of Europe, befriending Bauhaus masters Lyonel Feininger (1871–1956), Vassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) and Paul Klee (1879–1940). She united these artists under the name “the Blue Four,” signaling their camaraderie and spiritual affinities, for the purpose of promoting their work in the United States beginning in 1924. Scheyer’s mission to proselytize modernism to the American public was welcomed in California where she captivated audiences through lectures and educational programs first in Oakland and later in Los Angeles. Her groundbreaking exhibitions drawn from her collection stimulated local artistic communities and helped shape California into a center for modern art.
Scheyer’s passion for the art of her time is manifest in her remarkable collection. The 500 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculptures are tangible links between Scheyer and the artists she represented and befriended. As the self-described ambassador to her “Four Blue Kings,” she assembled a collection that offers one of the world’s richest aggregations of their work. Taken individually, the collection boasts the most comprehensive assemblage of Jawlensky’s paintings and drawings in the Western Hemisphere, and of Klee west of the Mississippi. Her collection is further enriched by representative work by 44 other artists, including Imogen Cunningham, Peter Krasnow, László Moholy-Nagy, Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. The catalogue The Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection at the Norton Simon Museum provides a detailed account of the collection’s vast holdings.
An enterprising agent, dealer, curator and educator, Scheyer passed away in December 1945, at the age of 56, leaving behind her expansive collection and archives. Fulfilling her wishes to keep her beloved collection together in California, her trustees chose the Pasadena Art Institute as the caretaker of her legacy in 1953. The bequest transformed the small arts organization into the Pasadena Art Museum, a pioneering center for modern and contemporary art through the early 1970s. After taking over management of the museum, Norton Simon similarly recognized the significance of Scheyer’s collection and orchestrated the publication of a long-anticipated Blue Four catalogue in 1976. Preserved in Pasadena at the Norton Simon Museum, The Blue Four Galka Scheyer Collection continues to inspire and delight visitors and remains an indelible part of California’s modernist heritage.