Otto Kallir founded the Neue Galerie in Vienna in 1923, and the still-extant Galerie St. Etienne in New York in 1939. The Neue Galerie represented leading Austrian modernists such as Richard Gerstl, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin and Egon Schiele. The Galerie St. Etienne introduced these artists, then virtually unknown in America, to the U.S. in the 1940s and ‘50s. As an homage to Kallir’s pioneering work, Ronald Lauder named his New York Museum of Austrian and German Art the “Neue Galerie.”
Seeking art representative of his adopted American homeland, Kallir discovered the self-taught painter “Grandma” Moses in 1940. With Kallir’s guidance, Moses became one of the most famous and successful American artists of the immediate postwar period.
Kallir, who had a PhD in art history, was committed to scholarship from the outset. In 1930, he authored the first catalogue raisonné of Schiele’s paintings. He updated this book in 1966, and in 1972 authored the first catalogue raisonné of Schiele’s prints.
Keenly attuned to historical nuance, Kallir encouraged Grandma Moses to record her recollections of nineteenth-century American farm life, which were published in the books Grandma Moses, American Primitive (1946) and Grandma Moses, My Life’s History (1952). Together with his longtime associate, Hildegard Bachert, Kallir compiled the catalogue raisonné of Moses’ paintings in 1973.
In 1931, while still in Vienna, Kallir rescued the paintings of Richard Gerstl, whose small surviving oeuvre had been in storage since the artist’s suicide in 1908. A one-person exhibition of the then totally unknown painter at the Neue Galerie proved a sensation, and subsequently traveled through Austria and Germany. In 1974, Kallir assembled all his notes and records from Gerstl’s estate and published them in a comprehensive documentation of the artist’s oeuvre.