5 priceless facts about avant-garde art collector Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim on the steps of the Grand Canal terrace, on the occasion of the first show she is organizing at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Mostra di Scultura Contemporanea, Venice, September 1949. Photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Don, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005.

Few familiar names mean more to modern art than “Guggenheim”. A family of miners who became a philanthropist, the Guggenheims grew rich in the 19th century, amassing a fortune that has since sparked and fueled great modernist movements.

Today, Guggenheim’s legacy is largely tied to the Guggenheim Museum in New York, an institution founded by Solomon R. Guggenheim in 1937. This site, however, is not the only significant Guggenheim museum of modern art. . Located along Venice’s Grand Canal is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a palace turned museum founded by Peggy Guggenheim. Much more than Solomon’s niece, this avant-garde art lover is one of the most influential curators of modernism and one of the most famous collectors of all time.

Discover the extraordinary life of Peggy Guggenheim with these five priceless facts.

His father died aboard the Titanic.

Benjamin guggenheim

Benjamin Guggenheim (Photo: Wikimedia Commons [Public Domain])

In 1898, Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim was born in New York to Florette Seligman and Benjamin Guggenheim. Son of mining magnate Meyer Guggenheim, Peggy’s father had inherited a lot of money, allowing him to divide his time between New York and Paris. On April 10, 1912, the millionaire boarded the Titanic, a ship bound for the Big Apple, in Cherbourg, France. At the time, the 2,453-passenger liner was famous for its impressive size. Days later, however, he would tragically take on a new heirloom when he struck an iceberg and sank, killing more than half of his capacity, including an immaculately dressed Benjamin Guggenheim.

“We dressed our best,” Benjamin Guggenheim reportedly told James Etches, an assistant steward, when he noticed that the mogul and his valet had given up on life jackets for evening wear, “and are ready to go down like gentlemen. “

Peggy Guggenheim was only 14 when her father died. In 1919, on her 21st birthday, she inherited $ 2.5 million (around $ 37 million today). The following year, she moved to Paris, where she met and mingled with the city’s avant-garde artists, many of whom would later be promoted as patrons.

She “discovered” Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock,

Jackson Pollock, “Mural”, 1943

In 1938, the Guggenheim opened Guggenheim Young, his first gallery, in London. That same year, she began to collect art in earnest, investing her heritage in surrealism, abstract works, and other modernist movements and styles. “I went on a diet to buy one photo a day,” she later recalls.

Many pieces purchased by Guggenheim were first shown in exhibitions at the Guggenheim Young and, from 1941, in his Art of This Century gallery in New York. In addition to showcasing work by established artists like Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Constantin Brâncuși, Guggenheim’s exhibitions included works by emerging artists, such as Robert Motherwell, Clyfford Still, and Jackson Pollock, which Guggenheim commissioned Wall launched his brilliant career in 1943.

“The mural was a leap forward for Pollock, and not just in aesthetic terms,” Helen A Harrison, author of Jackson Pollock, Explain. “With Guggenheim as patron, Pollock joined the ranks of an avant-garde taken seriously by critics, collectors and curators whose opinions mattered. “

Guggenheim would later name his “discovery” of Pollock as his “greatest achievement,” ranking higher than his collection itself.

The Louvre refused to house its collection during World War II.

Peggy Guggenheim in her house

Peggy Guggenheim in the dining room of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, 1960. From left to right: Vasily Kandinsky, Landscape with red spots, no 2 (Landschaft mit roten Flecken, no 2, 1913); Georges Braque, La Clarinette (La Clarinette, summer-fall 1912); Giacomo Balla, Abstract speed + sound (Velocità astratta + rumor, 1913–14); Louis Marcoussis, Le Régulier (L’Habitué, 1920); Umberto Boccioni, Dynamism of a Speeding Horse + Houses (Dinamismo di un cavallo in corsa + case, 1914–15); Albert Gleizes, Woman with animals (Madame Raymond Duchamp-Villon) (La Dame aux bêtes [Madame Raymond Duchamp-Villon], completed in February 1914; all works from the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Don, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005.

In no time, Guggenheim’s “one photo a day” plan paid off. By 1939, it had acquired 10 Picasso, 40 Ernst, eight Miró, four Magritte, three Man Ray, three Dalí, one Klee and one Chagall, among others. By today’s standards, these funds constitute a virtually invaluable collection. Guggenheim’s taste, however, was ahead of its time. Even the world-famous Louvre in Paris failed to recognize its value, refusing to house it during the Nazi invasion and forcing Guggenheim to ship it to the United States as “household goods.”

With his precious collection safe in New York, Guggenheim decided to open Art of This Century, an “American outpost for the European avant-garde”. With the end of the war and a five-year marriage to artist Max Ernst, Guggenheim returned to Europe, this time for good.

She moved into an unfinished 18th century palace in Venice.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice. © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Photo Matteo De Fina

In 1947, Guggenheim moved to Venice. The following year, she exhibited her collection at the city’s famous biennial and, in 1949, she bought the Venier dei Leoni Palace (the “Unfinished Lions Palace.”)

The story behind Guggenheim Palace is as follows: In 1749, the Veniers, a noble Venetian family, commissioned architect Lorenzo Boschetti to design a five-story palace perched on the Grand Canal. Unfortunately, extenuating circumstances hampered construction of the project, and the one-story palace remained unfinished. The building changed hands several times before Guggenheim made it his permanent home and, soon after, an art museum.

Guggenheim opened his home to the public in 1951, inviting visitors to browse his collection, displayed inside the palace and its magnificent gardens, free of charge until his death in 1979.

She is buried next to her 14 dogs.

Peggy Guggenheim's dogs

Peggy Guggenheim with her Lhassa Apsos burrows on the Grand Canal terrace of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, 1960. Photo Archivio Cameraphoto Epoche. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Don, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005.

After his death, Guggenheim’s ashes were hidden in a corner of his sculpture garden. Today, in addition to visiting the tomb of the revolutionary figure, visitors to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection can also pay homage to other important Guggenheimers: his 14 deceased Lhasa Apsos. “Here lie my beloved babies,” reads a plaque above the graves of her puppies. He then lists each of his dogs, from Cappucino (1949-1953) to Cellida (1964-1979).

With his dogs, his art and the Grand Canal (“If anything can compete with Venice in its beauty,” Guggenheim mused, “it must be her reflection at sunset on the Grand Canal”) by his side, it is difficult to imagine a more exceptional resting place for such an extraordinary person.

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