Eugene BielAmerican, 1902–1969
Eugene Biel-Bienne was born as Egon V. Biel on November 27, 1902 in Vienna, Austria. His father served as the Austrian Ambassador to Japan. He was raised as a Roman Catholic. He was educated at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the University of Vienna and the University of Cologne, where he received a PhD in Art History.
He started his career as a painter in Paris, France, where he became associated with the School of Paris in the 1930s. He also associated himself with the existentialist philosopher Paul Tillich (1886–1965), and he became interested in the psychoanalytic findings of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and the expressionist music of Arnold Schoenberg (1874–1951). In 1936, he had his first solo exhibition at the Wildenstein Institute in Paris.
He served with the French army during the Second World War. He was critical of the Nazis on French radio and drew disparaging caricatures of their leadership.When they invaded France, he moved to the South of France, where he joined the French resistance. During that time, he received stipends from the American Guild for German Cultural Freedom and from Quakers.
Marie Norton Harriman, wife of W. Averell Harriman (1891-1986) and director of the Marie Harriman Gallery in New York City, helped him and his wife be evacuated from France. Thanks to her help, the couple arrived in New York City in 1942. Once in New York, he was patronised by Baroness Hilla von Rebay (1890-1967), also a painter and the mistress of Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949). He taught at Fordham University, Parsons The New School for Design and The New School for Social Research. Meanwhile, he also exhibited his paintings at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Wehe Gallery. He also exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
From 1954 to 1956, he lived in Caracas, Venezuela, where his sister lived, and he exhibited his paintings in the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo. He moved back to the US and served as the Director of the French-American Art Institute in Washington, D.C. from 1956 to 1959. That year, after his wife died, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee and joined the Department of Fine Arts in the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University as a faculty member and taught drawing and painting.However, he clashed with other faculty members, including the department chair, Walter Sharp, and the Chancellor, Harvie Branscomb (1894-1998). He also sided with Gordon D. Kaufman (1925-2011), who was teaching at the Vanderbilt University Divinity School, to support African-American activist James Lawson, who was expelled from the Vanderbilt campus in 1960. Meanwhile, he continued to produce paintings, and exhibited at the Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art, the Parthenon and the Vanderbilt Art Gallery. However, he was fired by Vanderbilt University in 1963, though he stayed in his one-bedroom apartment close to campus overlooking the Centennial Park until he died six years later. Paul Harmon, another painter from Nashville, inherited the executorship of his estate.