Masterworks from the personal collection of Bernard Lewin, a pioneer in the market for Mexican art, are offered in the Latin American Art sales on 22 & 23 November
For generations, the Lewin family of Palm Springs, California, has been passionately dedicated to the study, promotion and collecting of Latin American art. Their legacy began in 1954 when Bernard Lewin (1906-2003) saw his first painting by Mexican modernist Rufino Tamayo. From that chance encounter, Lewin went on to amass one of the largest personal collections of Mexican modernism in the United States and to introduce countless individuals to the artists he so loved through his eponymous galleries in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs.
Lewin arrived in California in 1938 after fleeing Nazi Germany with his wife Edith (1911-1999) and their four-year-old son and only child Ralph. He began making a living for his family by moving furniture before moving on to buying and selling estates and eventually opening his own furniture store.
Slowly he began to notice not only the furniture but also the fine art collections of his clients and was inspired to learn more. Determined to meet some of the artists he had come to admire and better familiarise himself with their work, Lewin made his first trip to Mexico in 1958. He visited the studio of Diego Rivera and bought some of the deceased artist’s sketchbooks from the 1930s.
Fascinated by Mexican art, Lewin eventually gave up the furniture business and established his art gallery in 1968 in Beverly Hills, where he championed the work of such luminaries as Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Carlos Mérida, Francisco Zúñiga and many others now offered for sale at Christie’s.
More than a businessman, Lewin was a close friend to many of the artists he represented at his gallery. After Siqueiros was imprisoned in 1960 for leading protests against the Mexican government, Lewin persistently advocated for the artist’s release through the American Embassy. When Siqueiros was released, four years earlier than his initial sentence, Lewin purchased ten drawings from the artist, which helped finance what would become the renowned murals for the Castillo de Chapultepec.
In 1997, Lewin, along with his wife Edith, who had become a connoisseur of Mexican art in her own right, donated over 2,000 works from their collection to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. With this generous gift, LACMA instantly became the steward for one of the most comprehensive collections of Mexican modernism in the country.
Following in the tradition of Bernard and Edith, Ralph and his wife Ann have continued to add to and care for the family’s storied personal collection. The couple also instilled in their children, Lisa and Paul, a love of art and a commitment to their community of Palm Springs, where three generations of Lewins now reside.
More than half a century in the making, this exceptional collection, assembled with equal parts passion and analysis, is a testament to the commitment of the Lewin family to studying, supporting and sharing with others the transformative power of Mexican modernism.