Art, Art History, Museum, Who was/is

Who was Peggy Guggenheim?

Marguerite Guggenheim, or Peggy Guggenheim as she’s best known, was an American Art Collector born in NYC. She was also an important patron of the Abstract Expressionist school of artists in New York. Her father was Benjamin Guggenheim, a son of a wealthy mining magnate, he died in the Titanic disaster in 1912. And one of her uncles was Solomon R. Guggenheim who founded the Guggenheim Museum of NYC. 

In 1921, she moved to Paris with her husband, the writer Laurence Vail, and there she adopted a bohemian lifestyle, many of her acquaintances of that time, as Marcel Duchamp or Djuna Barnes, would become lifelong friends. In 1938 she opened an art gallery in London, the Guggenheim Jeune, it was the start of a career that would significantly affect the course of the post-war art.

Peggy Guggenheim – c. 1930 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She was urged by her friend Samuel Beckett to dedicate herself to contemporary art, because it was “a living thing”, and Duchamp introduced her to talented artists of the time. The first show she presented works of Jean Cocteau, and the second was the first solo show of Kandinsky in England.

During the years 1939-40 she was very busy acquiring works for her collection. Some of the masterpieces of her collection were bought at that time as works of Georges Bracque, Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia and Salvador Dalí. In 1941 she returned to New York with her children, Vail (who was her ex-husband at the time) and her second wife, and the Surrealist painter Max Ernst. She married Max Ernst few months later.

In October 1942, Peggy Guggenheim opened another art gallery in New York, it was called Art of This Century and it was designed by Frederick Kiesler, a Romanian-Austrian architect, and consisted of innovative exhibition rooms. The gallery soon became the most stimulating venue for the contemporary art in New York. She exhibited there her collection of Cubist, Abstract and Surrealist art. She also produced a remarkable catalogue that was edited by André Breton and the cover was by Max Ernst.

The gallery held temporary exhibitions of some unknown young American artists such as David Hare, William Baziotes, Richard Pousette-Dart, Clyfford Still; many of these artists received their first solo shows there. She also sponsored leading European artists and some important American artists as Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell and Jackson Pollock, who was “the star” of the gallery, since 1943 she promoted his work actively. Peggy Guggenheim commissioned his largest painting Mural and later gave it to the University of Iowa.

The support and encouragement the artists of Abstract Expressionism, as Pollock, found in Peggy and her gallery was very important to the development of this nascent avant-garde and first American art movement of international importance.

In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim decided to return in Europe, showing her collection for the first time in the Greek pavilion of the Venice Biennale in 1948. This was how the works of artists as Rothko and Pollock were exhibited for the first time in Europe. Soon after the Biennale, she came to live in a palazzo of 18th century on the Grand Canal.

In 1950 she organised the first European exhibition of Jackson Pollock in the Museum Correr in Venice. In the meantime, her collection was exhibited in Brussels, Amsterdam, Florence, Milan and Zurich. The next year she opened her house and her collection to the public annually during the summer.

In 1969 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum of NY invited her to shoe her collection there. One year later she donated her palazzo, and in 1976 she donated her collection, which contains many masterpieces of modern painting, to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The Foundation was created in 1937 by her uncle in order to promote the understanding of art and stablish a museum.

She died in 1979, her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of her museum. Since this time, under the oversight of the Guggenheim Foundation, her collection, known as the Guggenheim Collection, has become one of the finest museums of modern art in the world.