Peggy Guggenheim

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Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim, Paris, photograph Rogi Andre (Rozsa Klein).jpg
Peggy Guggenheim, c.1930, Paris, photograph Rogi André (Rozsa Klein). In the background, Notre Dame de Paris, and on the right, Joan Miró, Dutch Interior II (1928).
Marguerite Guggenheim

(1898-08-26)August 26, 1898
New York City
DiedDecember 23, 1979(1979-12-23) (aged 81)
Known for Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Parent(s)Florette Seligman
Benjamin Guggenheim

Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim (August 26, 1898 – December 23, 1979) was an American art collector, bohemian and socialite. Born to the wealthy New York City Guggenheim family, she was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who went down with the Titanic in 1912, and the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, who established the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Guggenheim collected art in Europe and America primarily between 1938 and 1946. She exhibited this collection as she built it; in 1949, she settled in Venice, where she lived and exhibited her collection for the rest of her life. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is a modern art museum on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, and is one of the most visited attractions in Venice.

Guggenheim family

The Guggenheim family is an American family known for their involvement in the mining industry and later in philanthropy. The family is named after the Alsatian village Gougenheim.

Benjamin Guggenheim businessman

Benjamin "Ben" Guggenheim was an American businessman. He died aboard RMS Titanic when the ship sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. His body was never recovered.

RMS <i>Titanic</i> British transatlantic passenger liner, launched and foundered in 1912

RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912 after the ship struck an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history's deadliest peacetime commercial marine disasters. RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.


Early life: inheritance, involvement in the art and writing community

Both of Guggenheim's parents were of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Her mother, Florette Seligman (1870–1937), was a member of the Seligman family. When she turned 21 in 1919, Guggenheim inherited US$2.5 million, equivalent to US$36.1 million in 2018. Guggenheim's father, Benjamin Guggenheim, a member of the Guggenheim family, died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and he had not amassed the fortune of his siblings; therefore her inheritance was far less than her cousins'.

She first worked as a clerk in an avant-garde bookstore, the Sunwise Turn, where she became enamored of the members of the bohemian artistic community. In 1920 she went to live in Paris, France. Once there, she became friendly with avant-garde writers and artists, many of whom were living in poverty in the Montparnasse quarter of the city. Man Ray photographed her, [1] and was, along with Constantin Brâncuși and Marcel Duchamp, a friend whose art she was eventually to promote.

Bohemianism lifestyle

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people and with few permanent ties. It involves musical, artistic, literary or spiritual pursuits. In this context, Bohemians may or may not be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

Avant-garde works that are experimental or innovative

The avant-garde are people or works that are experimental, radical, or unorthodox with respect to art, culture, or society. It may be characterized by nontraditional, aesthetic innovation and initial unacceptability, and it may offer a critique of the relationship between producer and consumer.

Montparnasse administrative quarter in Paris, France

Montparnasse is an area of Paris, France, on the left bank of the river Seine, centered at the crossroads of the Boulevard du Montparnasse and the Rue de Rennes, between the Rue de Rennes and boulevard Raspail. Montparnasse has been part of Paris since 1669.

She became close friends with writer Natalie Barney and artist Romaine Brooks and was a regular at Barney's salon. She met Djuna Barnes during this time, and in time became her friend and patron. Barnes wrote her best-known novel, Nightwood , while staying at the Devon country house, Hayford Hall, that Guggenheim had rented for two summers.

Romaine Brooks Portrait artist

Romaine Brooks, was an American painter who worked mostly in Paris and Capri. She specialized in portraiture and used a subdued tonal palette keyed to the color gray. Brooks ignored contemporary artistic trends such as Cubism and Fauvism, drawing on her own original aesthetic inspired by the works of Charles Conder, Walter Sickert, and James McNeill Whistler. Her subjects ranged from anonymous models to titled aristocrats. She is best known for her images of women in androgynous or masculine dress, including her self-portrait of 1923, which is her most widely reproduced work.

Salon (gathering) Social gathering

A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace's definition of the aims of poetry, "either to please or to educate". Salons in the tradition of the French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings.

Djuna Barnes American Modernist writer, poet and artist

Djuna Barnes was an American artist, illustrator, journalist, and writer best known for her novel Nightwood (1936), a cult classic of lesbian fiction and an important work of modernist literature.

Guggenheim urged Emma Goldman to write her autobiography and helped to secure funds for her to focus in Saint-Tropez, France, on writing her two volume Living My Life . [2]

Emma Goldman Lithuania-born anarchist, writer and orator

Emma Goldman was an anarchist political activist and writer. She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

Saint-Tropez Commune in Provence-Alpes-Côte dAzur, France

Saint-Tropez is a town on the French Riviera, 100 kilometres west of Nice in the Var department of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of Southeastern France. The inhabitants of Saint-Tropez are called Tropéziens ; the town is familiarly called St-Trop.

<i>Living My Life</i> autobiography of Lithuanian-born anarchist Emma Goldman

Living My Life is the autobiography of Lithuanian-born anarchist Emma Goldman, who became internationally renowned as an activist based in the United States. It was published in two volumes in 1931 and 1934. Goldman wrote it while living in Saint-Tropez, France, following her disillusionment with the Bolshevik role in the Russian revolution.

Collecting, before World War II

In January 1938, Guggenheim opened a gallery for modern art in London featuring Jean Cocteau drawings in its first show, and began to collect works of art. Guggenheim often purchased at least one object from each of her exhibitions at the gallery. [3] After the outbreak of World War II, she purchased as much abstract and Surrealist art as possible. [4]

Jean Cocteau French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, boxing manager and filmmaker

Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau was a French poet, playwright, novelist, designer, filmmaker, visual artist and critic. Cocteau is best known for his novels Le Grand Écart (1923), Le Livre Blanc (1928), and Les Enfants Terribles (1929); the stage plays La Voix Humaine (1930), La Machine Infernale (1934), Les Parents terribles (1938), La Machine à écrire (1941), and L'Aigle à deux têtes (1946); and the films The Blood of a Poet (1930), Les Parents Terribles (1948), from his own eponymous piéce, Beauty and the Beast (1946), Orpheus (1949), and Testament of Orpheus (1960), which alongside Blood of a Poet and Orpheus constitute the so-called Orphic Trilogy. He was described as "one of [the] avant-garde's most successful and influential filmmakers" by AllMovie.

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Her first gallery was called Guggenheim Jeune, the name being ingeniously chosen to associate the epitome of a gallery, the French Bernheim-Jeune, with the name of her own well known family. The gallery on 30 Cork Street, next to Roland Penrose's and E. L. T. Mesens' show-case for the Surrealist movement, the London Gallery, proved to be successful, thanks to many friends who gave advice and who helped run the gallery. Marcel Duchamp, whom she had known since the early 1920s, when she lived in Paris with her first husband Laurence Vail, had introduced Guggenheim to the art world; it was through him that she met many artists during her frequent visits to Paris. He taught her about contemporary art and styles, and he conceived several of the exhibitions held at Guggenheim Jeune.

The Cocteau exhibition was followed by exhibitions on Wassily Kandinsky (his first one-man-show in England), Yves Tanguy, Wolfgang Paalen and several other well-known and some lesser-known artists. Peggy Guggenheim also held group exhibitions of sculpture and collage, with the participation of the now classic moderns Antoine Pevsner, Henry Moore, Henri Laurens, Alexander Calder, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Constantin Brâncuși, John Ferren, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Kurt Schwitters. She also greatly admired the work of John Tunnard (1900–1971) and is credited with his discovery in mainstream international modernism.

Plans for a museum

When Guggenheim realized that her gallery, although well received, had made a loss of £600 in the first year, she decided to spend her money in a more practical way. A museum for contemporary arts was exactly the institution she could see herself supporting. Most certainly on her mind also were the adventures in New York City of her uncle, Solomon R. Guggenheim, who, with the help and encouragement of Hilla Rebay, had created the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation two years earlier. The main aim of this foundation had been to collect and to further the production of abstract art, resulting in the opening of the Museum of Non-objective Painting (from 1952: The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) earlier in 1939 on East 54th Street in Manhattan. Guggenheim closed Guggenheim Jeune with a farewell party on 22 June 1939, at which colour portrait photographs by Gisèle Freund were projected on the walls. She started making plans for a Museum of Modern Art in London together with the English art historian and art critic Herbert Read. She set aside $40,000 for the museum's running costs. However, these funds were soon overstretched with the organisers' ambitions.

In August 1939, Guggenheim left for Paris to negotiate loans of artworks for the first exhibition. In her luggage was a list drawn up by Herbert Read for this occasion. Shortly after her departure the Second World War broke out, and the events following 1 September 1939 made her abandon the scheme, willingly or not. She then "decided now to buy paintings by all the painters who were on Herbert Read's list. Having plenty of time and all the museum's funds at my disposal, I put myself on a regime to buy one picture a day." [5] When finished, she had acquired ten Picassos, forty Ernsts, eight Mirós, four Magrittes, four Ferren s, three Man Rays, three Dalís, one Klee, one Wolfgang Paalen and one Chagall among others. In the meantime, she had also made new plans and in April 1940 had rented a large space in the Place Vendôme as a new home for her museum.

A few days before the Germans reached Paris, Guggenheim had to abandon her plans for a Paris museum, and fled to the south of France, from where, after months of safeguarding her collection and artist friends, she left Europe for New York in the summer of 1941. There, in the following year, she opened a new gallery which actually was in part a museum at 30 West 57th Street. It was called The Art of This Century Gallery. Three of the four galleries were dedicated to Cubist and Abstract art, Surrealism and Kinetic art, with only the fourth, the front room, being a commercial gallery. Guggenheim held important shows, such as the show for 31 Women artists, at the gallery as well. [6]

Her interest in new art was instrumental in advancing the careers of several important modern artists including the American painters Jackson Pollock and William Congdon, the Austrian surrealist Wolfgang Paalen, the sound poet Ada Verdun Howell and the German painter Max Ernst, whom she married in December 1941. [7] She had assembled her collection in only seven years. [4]

The collection, after World War II

Following World War II – and her 1946 divorce from Max Ernst – she closed The Art of This Century Gallery in 1947, and returned to Europe, deciding to live in Venice, Italy. In 1948, she was invited to exhibit her collection in the disused Greek Pavilion of the Venice Biennale and in 1949 established herself in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni ('unfinished palazzo of the lions') on the Grand Canal. [4]

Her collection became one of the few European collections of modern art to promote a significant number of works by Americans. In the 1950s she promoted the art of two local painters, Edmondo Bacci and Tancredi Parmeggiani. By the early 1960s, Guggenheim had almost stopped collecting art and began to concentrate on presenting what she already owned. She loaned out her collection to museums in Europe and in 1969 to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, which was named after her uncle. Eventually, she decided to donate her home and her collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, a gift which was concluded inter vivos in 1976, before her death in 1979.

Guggenheim's grave, with a plaque remembering her Lhasa Apsos (dogs) Pguggenheimgrave.jpg
Guggenheim's grave, with a plaque remembering her Lhasa Apsos (dogs)

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the most important museums in Italy for European and American art of the first half of the 20th century. Pieces in her collection embrace Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. [8]

Guggenheim lived in Venice until her death in Camposampiero near Padua, Italy, after a stroke. Her ashes are interred in the garden (later the Nasher Sculpture Garden) of her home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (inside the Peggy Guggenheim Collection), next to her dogs. [4]

Private life

According to both Guggenheim and her biographer Anton Gill, it was believed that while living in Europe, she had "slept with 1,000 men". [9] She claimed to have had affairs with numerous artists and writers, and in return many artists and others have claimed affairs with her. When asked by conductor Thomas Schippers how many husbands she’d had, she replied, “You mean my own, or other people’s?” [10] [11] In her autobiography, Peggy provides the names of some of these lovers, including Yves Tanguy, Roland Penrose and E. L. T. Mesens. [12]

Her first marriage was to Laurence Vail, a Dada sculptor and writer with whom she had two children, Michael Cedric Sindbad Vail (1923–1986) and Pegeen Vail Guggenheim. They divorced about 1928 following his affair with writer Kay Boyle, whom he later married. Soon after her first marriage dissolved, she had an affair with John Ferrar Holms, a writer with writer's block who had been a war hero. [4] [13] Starting in December 1939, she and Samuel Beckett had a brief but intense affair, and he encouraged her to turn exclusively to modern art. [4] She married her second husband, painter Max Ernst, in 1941 and divorced him in 1946. [7] Among her eight grandchildren is Karole Vail, who was appointed director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in 2017. [14]

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Karole P. B. Vail is an American museum director, curator and writer. Since 2017, she has been the director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Director for Italy. Prior to this appointment, she worked on the curatorial staff at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York for 20 years.



  1. Rijks Museum
  2. "Living My Life | The Anarchist Library". Retrieved 2017-07-31.
  3. Laurence,, Tacou-Rumney,. Peggy Guggenheim : a collector's album. Paris. p. 84. ISBN   2080136100. OCLC   35396116.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Walsh, John. "The priceless Peggy Guggenheim", The Independent, October 21, 2009, accessed March 12, 2012
  5. Guggenheim (1979), p. 69
  6. Shenker, Israel (December 24, 1979). "Peggy Guggenheim Is Dead at 81; Known for Modern Art Collection". Encyclopedia Titanica.
  7. 1 2 Biography, Peggy Guggenheim Collection Retrieved June 25, 2010
  8. "Peggy Guggenheim Collection". The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. 2004. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  9. "Thomas Messer", Telegraph obituary, 23 May 2013
  12. Out of this Century: Confessions of an Art Addict, Peggy Guggenheim, published by Andre Deutsch, London. 2005.
  13. Vail, Karole P. B. Peggy Guggenheim: A Centennial Celebration Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation (1998), p. 78. ISBN   0-8109-6914-9
  14. Barone, Joshua. "The Peggy Guggenheim Collection Names Its New Director", The New York Times , June 8, 2017, accessed July 30, 2017