The jackdaw is one of the smartest birds around. In folklore, she is very acquisitive, picking up bright, beautiful, shiny things with which to line her nest. She is, in short, your basic avian art collector. In 1915, painter Alexei Jawlensky nick-named aspiring young artist Emilie Esther Scheyer “Galka,” Russian for “jackdaw.” This was the name she wore for the rest of her life. Like her namesake, she was brilliant and spent her life surrounding herself with beautiful things—as well as the people who made them.
The Norton-Simon’s current show, “Maven of Modernism: Galka Scheyer in California,” includes about 100 works from some 500 in her personal collection. They range from pieces by Lyonel Feininger to Edward Weston, but the heart of the show is the assemblage of pictures by the quartet she called “The Blue Four,” of whom Jawlensky was the first: then came Feininger, Paul Klee, and Vasily Kandinsky.
Galka gave up her own artistic ambitions to present, promote and sell their work. In 1924, she came to California as a prophet of the Blue Four avant garde, first in San Francisco, whose taste she found to be too conservative, then in Los Angeles, where she remained for the rest of her life. She lectured on, promoted, and publicized modern art as she socialized with celebrities like Joseph von Sternberg, John Cage, and Richard Neutra, who designed her house/gallery in Hollywood Hills. There she extended her collection to include another 44 painters and photographers. By the time of her 1946 death, she had acquired the best collection of modern art in the West—including Picasso, Nolde, Moholy-Nagy, Franz Marc, and Diego Rivera. By bringing so much great modern work to Los Angeles so early, she is credited with helping to make it the international art center it is today.
Source: 89.3 KPCC