Probably dating from the artist’s time in Paris in the late 1920s, this work uses textiles and fabrics to showcase Hilaire Hiler’s early interest in color harmony, design and psychology.

The Jundt Museum of Art at Gonzaga University in Spokane recently exhibited a mural depicting a colorful jungle scene, by American artist Hilaire Hiler. The mural is on loan from the Northwest Gallery, Thomas Gianetto, Daniel Nicodemo and Donald Merrill in memory of Kody Merrill and Robert Joseph Merlo II. The mural will remain on display on a wall opposite the museum’s Chancellor’s Room until the end of 2016.

“Our vision has always been to share meaningful works of art with the community at large. Spokane and the Jundt Museum on the Gonzaga University campus seemed like the perfect fit to display this masterpiece,” said Thom Gianetto.

Probably dating to the artist’s time in Paris in the late 1920s, this work uses textiles and fabrics to showcase Hiler’s early interest in color harmony, design, and psychology. Hiler decorated several nightclubs, including one named the Jungle (perhaps using murals like this), in the Montparnasse district of Paris in the 1920s. The exhibition of the Jundt Art mural Museum also includes Hiler’s pencil-on-paper study drawing for the creation of the scene.

“The Jundt Art Museum is extremely grateful to the lenders for sharing this remarkable object with the Gonzaga community and the people of Spokane,” said Paul Manoguerra, director and curator of the Jundt Art Museum. “Filled with stylized, abstract flowers and plants, the impressive mural features colorful birds, reptiles and insects that create a wonderful interplay with Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures in the adjacent Chancellor’s Room.”

Hilaire Hiler, born Hiler Harzberg in St. Paul, Minnesota, was an acclaimed painter, costume and set designer, muralist, jazz musician, psychologist, teacher, and author of theoretical treatises on color and abstract design. In Philadelphia, before 1918, he attended the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the Pennsylvania School of Industrial Art. Hiler moved to New York when he was 20 and met Wynn Holcomb, a well-known cartoonist, who arranged for Hiler to travel to Paris in 1919 to help coordinate an article for Shadowland magazine. Hiler remained in France for 15 years and initially supported himself as a pianist as part of the city’s jazz scene.

In Paris, Hiler had many friends and contemporaries, including writers Henry Miller, William Saroyan, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway and Sinclair Lewis, and artists Alexandra Exter, Constantin Brancusi, Amedeo Modigliani, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Stuart Davis and Marc Chagall. , among others. Hiler’s paintings and drawings from his time in Paris, exhibited at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune and the Galerie Zborowski, as well as the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Indépendants, had a strongly formalized quality of conception. He returned to the United States in 1934 and became a member of the American Artists Congress. He was employed by the Federal Arts Project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and in 1937, with the support of the WPA, he executed his most ambitious work: murals for Aquatic Park, now on display at the San Francisco Maritime Museum.

From around 1940 until his death in 1966, he produced a series of works that focused on non-representational geometric abstractions and a theory he called structuralism that was rooted in scientific and psychological understandings of color. Trained as a psychologist, he worked at the Institute of Psychoanalysis at the Sorbonne; in 1946, he tried the professional practice of psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. Although he had many small gallery exhibitions during his lifetime, Hiler’s most notable exhibitions were both posthumous retrospectives: one at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1968 and one at the University of New Mexico Art. Museum in 1976. Today, Hiler’s paintings are in many museum collections, including those of the Whitney, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.

Exhibitions at the Jundt Art Museum are free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Saturday; closed on Sundays and university holidays. For more information, call (509) 313-6843 or visit To arrange a docent-led tour, please call Karen Kaiser, Curator of Education, at (509) 313-6613.


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