Nici Teweles and her husband, Bill, had an affinity for art that drove them to become avid collectors of Abstract Expressionist paintings. The Milwaukee couple built their collection with guidance from Nici Teweles’ brother, Andre Emmerich, the renowned and influential Manhattan art dealer whose gallery was an early champion of Color Field painting.
Items from the Teweles’ collection were sold earlier this month through a sale conducted by New York City auction house Christie’s. The pieces included “Genuine Blue,” an acrylic and marker work on canvas by Helen Frankenthaler, who the Teweles had known since high school, that sold for more than $3.3 million, and “The Red Wall,” an acrylic and charcoal work on canvas by Robert Motherwell, a Color Field pioneer who had been married to Frankenthaler, that sold for nearly $1.9 million.
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Another piece in the Teweles’ collection, “Green Pool with Diving Board and Shadow,” a work of David Hockney, sold for nearly $2.4 million.
Nicole “Nici” Teweles, fled Nazi-occupied Europe as a child. She died in January at age 95, seven months after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Bill Teweles, born Lawrence William Teweles, oversaw Milwaukee-based L. Teweles Seed Co., a company founded in 1865 that would grow to become one of the country’s largest seed companies. He died at age 91 in 2015.
Born in Frankfurt in 1927, Nici Teweles was six when Adolph Hitler came to power in Germany. Her family would eventually flee to the Netherlands and during her time in Amsterdam she counted Anne Frank, who posthumously gained fame for keeping a diary in which she documented life in hiding under Nazi persecution, among her playmates.
After settling in the United States, Nici Teweles and her brother each became central figures in their local arts scenes, she as an active patron in Milwaukee and Emmerich as a legendary gallerist in New York City.
The art collection that the Teweles built, with guidance from Emmerich, featured many influential pieces, including a stunning collection of the most renowned colorists of the 20th century. Emmerich’s gallery opened in 1954 at the height of Abstract Expressionism, and he would become a primary dealer for luminaries such as Frankenthaler, Motherwell and Kenneth Noland. He lifted the emerging movement of Color Field painting to “seismic heights,” according to a post on the Christie’s website that describes the Teweles’ collection in detail.
Color Field painting was a style of abstraction in which artists eliminated the physical and painterly emotion of the Abstract Expressionists and instead focused on color as a singular means of expression. Emmerich was first introduced to Color Field painting by his close friend, Motherwell, and became a pivotal force in promoting these artists on a global level, according to the post.
In addition to her affinity for art, Nici Teweles had been part of a book club, the members of whom she gathered with for monthly discussions about literature, life and current events, for nearly seven decades. The club’s story was featured in a 2016 story in Milwaukee Magazine.
Everyone in the book club “knows Nici’s dramatic story nearly by heart,” wrote the story’s author, Sandy Tolan, whose late mother, Sally Tolan, had also been part of the group.
Other pieces from the Teweles’ art collection featured in the auction and their sale prices include an untitled work by Sam Francis, $819,000; Noland’s “Let Up,” $478,800; Joseph Albers’ “Homage to the Square: Intrepid,” $352,800; and Hans Hofmann’s “Flux No. 4 – A Cycle of Oil Paintings,” $75,600.