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Queen of Arts

Muriel Newman excelled at the art of collecting. One expert called the paintings that graced her Gold Coast apartment “the greatest private collection of abstract expressionists in the world”—and Chicago’s art scene shuddered when she bequeathed most of those paintings to a New York museum. But no one seemed to blame Newman, whose gregarious personality and boundless generosity endeared her to local art institutions and patrons. Nearly a year after her death, a look back at the colorful 94-year life of an unforgettable grande dame

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Muriel Newman in 2003, wearing a satin jacket by Geoffrey Beene and seated in a chair by Eileen Gray, poses in front of a painting by Clyfford Still.

 

She had an eye—the ability to spot genuine artistic value—and she gave it a primary place in her life. She never stopped looking, and she looked carefully—not only choosing the brilliant and the wonderful but also avoiding near misses and outright disasters. Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman collected art, fashion, admirers, and amazing stories. Because she was a gifted conversationalist, she was always happy to share the stories: how she had run into Mark Rothko on a sidewalk in New York, and he had asked her to look at one of his new paintings—a marvelous work in the color field style—and she had bought it hot off the easel; how Willem de Kooning had the most awful teeth; how the fashion designer Issey Miyake called this dress of hers—well, he had created it, but now she wore it—a “dinosaur dress,” referring to its overlapping panels of fabric. She liked to say that she and the conceptual artist Daniel Buren had “a special communication.” Barnett Newman had given her a big runaround when she tried to buy his white-on-white painting. Almost without exception, you could mention a name from the art world and she would say, “Let me tell you a story about him.”

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