PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF GUY AND MARIE-HÉLÈNE WEILL
Across more than half a century, the collectors Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill engaged in an inspired deeply shared journey in fine art. Early patrons of Abstract Expressionism, the couple expanded their connoisseurship over time to encompass a diversity of categories and media. From masterful examples of Chinese painting to exquisite works of Southeast Asian sculpture, their private collection stood as a tangible expression of the curiosity and zeal with which they lived.
Guy Weill was born and raised in Zürich, Marie-Hélène Bigar in Lausanne, Switzerland. In the late 1930s, both Guy and Marie-Hélène’s families immigrated separately to the United States, where they met in 1940. During this period, Marie-Hélène Weill earned a B.A. degree in art history from Radcliffe College, while Mr. Weill enlisted in the U.S. Army, where he served in Military Intelligence under General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The couple married in 1942. After the war, Guy Weill opened British American House, a menswear emporium on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue that was the first to feature Burberry and Aquascutum in the US.
In the late 1960s, Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill discovered the rich history and beauty of Asian art. While visiting one of their daughters in California, they happened upon the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. The Weills were overwhelmed by the simple forms and graceful lines of Chinese painting, porcelain, and bronzes. When they returned to Manhattan, the collectors began what they later described as a “lifelong process of self-education,” honing their united connoisseurial eye with the Asia Society and the China Institute where Marie-Hélène served as a docent. Together they studied, traveled extensively and learned everything they could about their new passion, and from the 1970s onward, Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill carefully built what would become one of New York’s premier assemblages of Asian art.
The collectors’ devotion to Chinese painting was especially notable: “The Weills have collected at a level of excellence and with a passionate enthusiasm,” wrote former Metropolitan Museum of Art Director Philippe de Montebello, “that rival that of distinguished Chinese connoisseurs.” After being outbid by the Weills at an auction of Chinese art, Met Museum curator Wen Fong approached the couple to become involved with the institution. Over the years, Guy and Marie-Hélène Weill were devoted volunteers, benefactors, and friends to the museum’s Department of Asian Art, where Mrs. Weill lectured on Chinese and Southeast Asian Art, and Guy Weill lent his artistry as a photographer.
In addition to the China Institute, the Asia Society, and the Metropolitan Museum, the Weills were keen benefactors of the Brooklyn Museum, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard University, as well as Carnegie Hall, Young Audiences and the Metropolitan Opera. The couple donated many works to museums, including items from their superb collection of Chinese painting to the Metropolitan Museum where it was shown as the 2002 exhibition, Cultivated Landscapes: Chinese Paintings from the Collection of Marie-Hélène and Guy Weill. According to the Weills, the bequest was a message “to those who love art as much as life: to enjoy art, you must share it.”