Peggy Guggenheim, photographed by Man Ray in 1924
When Peggy was given the first of her money in 1919, she got herself to Paris as soon as she decently could. The expatriates there thought she was terrific. She married Laurence Vail, an American writer who loved the bohemian life of Paris as much as Our Peggy did. In 1928 the marriage was over and Peggy moved to London.
In 1938 Guggenheim opened Guggenheim Jeune, a London gallery of modern art that celebrated the works of Jean Cocteau and Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp acted as a mentor for the rather inexperienced Miss Guggenheim and suggested to her that she should focus her energy on surrealist and other modernist art. The young gallery owner was delighted to display works by Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Wassily Kandinsky, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and of course Max Ernst.
By 1939, Peggy was organising herself for a Museum of Modern Art in London together with the English art historian/critic Herbert Read. She hot footed it to Paris to begin collecting work for the new Museum but the outbreak of war ruined the plans. Nonethless she did manage to buy 10 Picassos, 40 Ernsts, 8 Mirós, 4 Rene Magrittes, 3 Man Rays, 3 Dalís, plus one each from Paul Klee, Marc Chagall and Georges Braque.
Only days before the German invasion of 1941, this brave Jewish woman realised the danger she and her friends were in. She left Paris for New York with hundreds of works of art with which she would begin a new American gallery. Peggy travelled to New York with the German surrealist artist Max Ernst, whom she married in 1942 (and soon divorced).
In 1942, Peggy found a space to exhibit her collection. Her gallery-museum, called Art of This Century, did well. It opened on 57th St in Oct 1942 and featured surrealists and cubists, Americans and European refugees. The gallery, designed by Frederick Kiesler, with concave walls, startled and intrigued visitors. Modern viewers can see a replica of the 1942 show called The Flight of European Artists from Hitler.
I am not certain about Peggy’s relationship with Jackson Pollock. Certainly he was a young artist who suddenly found the art critics were discussing his work. One thing we know for certain is that Peggy commissioned a HUGE mural from Pollock for the entry of her new townhouse. Also in 1946, Robert De Niro had his first one-man exhibition at Peggy’s Art of this Century gallery, and did well.
Art of this Century in NY, 1942
In 1951 Peggy formally opened her Venetian home as a museum. We can see from the photos from those days that there were several Jackson Pollocks and Arshile Gorkys in the collection.
In 1965 Peggy’s collection travelled to the Tate Museum, and then in 1969 to her late Uncle Solomon Guggenheim’s Museum which had been established in New York. In 1974 the New York Guggenheim took over the running of the Venetian museum, acquiring the collection as well as the palazzo. Peggy Guggenheim died in her palazzo in Dec 1979, having lived a creative, productive and sometimes provocative life. PollockstheBollocks said she lived her life as an art addict!
Guggenheim Museum in Venice