11 March 2017

Hazel Guggenheim, artist and tragic

Benjamin Guggenheim (1865–1912) was the 5th son to participate in dad's productive mining inter­ests, especially the American Smelting and Refining Co. Benjamin married Florette Seligman (1870-1937), daugh­t­er of a famous law­yer who’d built the Flat­iron Building on the prominent corner of Broad­way and 5th Ave. In time three daughters were born: Benita (1895-1927), Peggy/Marguerite (1898-1979) & Barbara Hazel (1903-95). They lived in a very elegant 5th Ave house.

Ben­jamin went to Europe to rest, buying a lovely flat in Paris for himself. Later he returned to the USA, and in 1903 built a large mining machinery plant at Mil­wau­kee which became the International Steam Pump Co. The comp­any had 7 plants in the USA, one in Britain and 10,000 workers.

Guggenheim was 46 when he boarded the RMS Titanic in April 1912, en route back to the USA. With him was his French singer-mistress, valet, chauffeur and maid. Florette Guggenheim waited at the White Star ship­ping line in New York for news, but the men had drowned. The bulk of Benjamin’s estate was left to his two sisters, wife Florette and his three daughters.

Bejamin Guggenheim's three daughters, 
in the happy days before the sinking of the Titanic.

First daughter Mrs Benita Mayer (b 1895) died in 1927.

The second daughter Peggy (b 1898) reached adulthood and inherited from her late father in 1919, so she quickly moved to Paris. The ex-pat­s there welcomed her into their bohemian community, where she married the American writer Laurence Vail and had two child­ren.

The third daughter Hazel (b 1903) married Sigmund Kempner in 1921 and divorced the next year in Paris. Hazel then married Milton S Wald­man in Paris in Jan 1923 and had two children, Terrence (b1924) and Benjamin Waldman (b1927).

The New York Times gave the following tragic story on 20th Oct 1928. “Terrence and Benjamin Waldman, 4.5 years old and 14 months old respectively, the sons of Mr and Mrs Milton S. Waldman (nee Barbara Hazel Guggenheim) of New York and Paris, were killed yesterday in a fall from the roof of the Surrey, a 16-storey apartment hotel.

Their mother, who was with them, saw her children fall to the roof of a 3-storey building next door. She made an in­ef­fectual effort to save them and then was too horror stricken even to call for help. First notice of the accident came from the street when someone ran in to notify the telephone operator that two child­ren had fallen.

Mrs Waldman had gone to the Surrey to visit her cousin, Mrs Cornelius Ruxton Love, who occupies a penthouse bungalow. Mrs Love, daughter of Rear Admiral Louis Josephthal, commander of the New York State Naval Militia, had gone out but had left word for Mrs Waldman to wait. So Mrs Waldman went to the roof with her children. Mrs Love was not aware of what had happ­ened to the children until later.

Mrs Waldman required the attention of two physicians last night and was unable to tell a coherent story of what happened. Joseph Huler of Woodside Ave Queens, a painter, was probably the only witness. Surrounding the penthouse is a landscaped plot which contains garden furniture and a porch swing. The picket fence’s gate opens to the rest of the roof and Mrs Waldman with her children had apparently gone to the parapet.

Huler said Mrs Waldman was seated on the low parapet with her back to the street. The younger boy was in her arms. Terence, jealous of his brother's favoured spot in his mother's arms or anxious to see more of the view, was pulling, trying to climb into his mother's lap. In the scramble one of the children went over the edge. Mrs. Waldman made an effort to catch him and the other child also fell.

Mrs Waldman is living at the Hotel Plaza, having returned from Europe a week ago. Her husband, Milton Waldman, newspaper man and writer, is still in Paris. They were married in 1923 and have spent much of their time abroad.

Medical Examiner Raymond B Miles, after an examination of the bodies was satisfied that death was accidental”.

Were mental health issues already visible in the family? It is telling that the girls’ Seligman grandmother, mother, aunts and uncles had suffered from phobias. One maternal uncle killed himself in his 50s (suicide?) and two cousins were definitely suicides. With gross insensitivity, Florette blamed her daughter Hazel for Benjamin's demise since he had booked his passage to be home for the child's 9th birthday!! At 20, Peggy suffered a nervous collapse because of her compulsive behaviours. And now Hazel’s sons died in a fall from a high building in Manhattan. The family’s mental health was definitely in question!

Mrs Wald­man was so shaken by her sons' tragedy that she spent some time in a sanitarium. In Feb 1930 she won a divorce from Milton S Waldman in the Paris courts. She later married a number of times and had two more children, Charles Everett McKinley Jr and Larry Leonard.

The incident sent shock waves throughout the cultivated world of the Jewish upper classes that the Guggenheims belonged to, and left Hazel permanently stigmatised and in exile. Her own description gives some insight into the itinerant, unsettled life she led.

For someone who knew a lot about Guggenheim patronage in the art world well, I Helen knew nothing about Hazel’s art. Hazel was painting seriously! In 1930 Hazel and Hugh St Denys King-Farlow had married in Britain, and Hazel became associated with the London Group and the Euston Road School. She first exhibited her work with them during the 1930s, under her then-married name “Hazel King Farlow”. Her work from this period included still-life, town­scapes and landscapes, carefully painted a la Parisian artist Utrillo. Her first solo exhibition was at the Cooling Galleries in London in April 1937. She sold/donated her works to public art galleries and municipal collections in cities like Manchester and Leeds.

Hazel King-Farlow
The Harbour, c1937
Manchester Art Gallery

Hazel King-Farlow
The Old Mill House, c1937
Bristol Museum

Peggy also participated in the cultural ferment in London & Paris in the inter-war era; her first commercial art venture was a gallery she opened in Par­is. In 1928 Peggy moved to London and mar­ried the British writer John Holms. In 1938 Peggy opened Guggenheim Jeune, a London gallery of mod­ern art, starring Wassily Kandinsky, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi, Max Ernst, Pablo Pic­asso and Jean Miro. Peggy was beginning her personal art collection, becoming one of the art world’s most signific­ant patrons and prom­oters. But did she work with, or socialise with her sister Hazel?

At the outbreak of WW2 Peggy bought Picassos, Mirós and Dalís etc. She fled to New York with her ex-husband Vail, his second wife Kay Boyle, the children from his two marriages, and her next husband the German surrealist artist Max Ernst.

Hazel and Hugh St Denys King-Farlow had married in Europe but divorced, so Hazel returned with their two child­ren to the USA for the duration of WW2. She continued to paint, esp­ec­ially after marrying the artist Chick McKinley. She also continued to exhibit, including at her sister’s gallery, Art of This Century, where she took part in the 1943 Exhibition of 31 Modern Women. This was the only time Peggy exhibited her sister’s work, but at least Hazel was receiving quality art lessons from Peggy’s famous husband Max Ernst.

The tragedies continued. Pilot Chick McKinley died in a plane crash so Hazel moved to New Orleans. After the war she lost custody of her two Farlow-King children when ex husband Denys won a legal battle and took them back to the UK. She had three more brief marriages, including Archibald Butt Jr.

Note that one of Hazel’s paintings was finally exhibited at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, in 1998. Alas for Hazel, she had died in 1995 and didn’t know of her success.

We cannot dismiss the chaotic lives by saying that some families suffer terrible luck. Rather we have to ask if there was serious mental instability in the maternal half of the fam­ily. Did the three daughters never really recover from their father’s tragic death on the Titanic? And did Hazel’s second tragedy (the death of her sons) mean that she would constantly be marrying and divorcing as a punishment for not protecting her toddlers? The Guggenheims, an America Epic by John H Davis gives a clue or two eg the competition between Peggy and Hazel to have the most affairs. And About Hazel is a more personal blog site.


Robin said...

We are all victims of our choices. Such a sad tale.

Another Student said...

Benita also died early .. this family faced one tragedy after another. All that mining money did not protect them.

Hels said...


agreed... although with such a relentlessly sad tale, I wonder if the choices were all voluntarily made. When their father tragically drowned in the Titanic, the three girls were all still very young and were left in the sole care of a grieving and disturbed mother. And then the tragedies went on into the third generation.

What would we do now? Get some outside counselling and support, I would hope.

Hels said...


I tried very hard to find out what happened to Benita. The only newspaper to mention the cause of death was The New Yorker who wrote "in the late twenties, the perils of motherhood for all the Guggenheim sisters became chillingly clear. Benita, after several attempts to have a baby, died in childbirth in 1927". She would have been 32.

Was dying in childbirth a tragic truth or a gentle cover up?

Andrew said...

I thought I was reading a good book for a minute and you nearly made me late for work. It all seems so tragic.

Parnassus said...

Hello Hels, What kind of person leaves a safe garden enclosure to sit on the parapet of a tall building with two small, active children? The question is whether Hazel's breakdown occurred before or after the incident. (Balconies and parapets in general make me nervous, with good cause, as witness the tragic University of Virginia balcony collapse a number of years ago.)

Hels said...


I had all my lecture notes about both a) The Titanic Families and b) the art patronage and collections of Solomon and Peggy Guggenheim. It made writing half of this blog post very simple :)

But I didn't even know that Hazel was an artist or that she married many many times. I suspect that important families carefully monitor what gets into print.

Hels said...


A 16 storey hotel???? I don't think there was anybody in the world who believed the accidental finding by the Medical Examiner. Especially as there was a reliable and independent witness.

But the more I read of Florette's treatment of her three daughters, the more I think that Hazel's descent into ill health was inevitable. Even Peggy's daughter, Pegeen, suffered from depression and died from an overdose at the very young age of 40.

Joseph said...

Peggy's gallery in Venice was a delight, but Hazel's works seemed to have disappeared. Perhaps the name Hazel King-Farlow made her invisible.

Hels said...


It must have been very difficult for the young woman. If her paintings had been signed "Hazel Guggenheim", we would have known instantly who had painted them. But who would have recognised the surnames Kempner, Waldman, King-Farlow, McKinley, Butt etc etc?

bazza said...

Tragedy does not, of course, only happen to the super-rich but it's too easy to feel that there is some kind of moral imperative at work. Many successful, but impoverished, people overcome tragic life events before finding fame or wealth.
Most of the Guggenheims would have provided much for a psychoanalyst to delve into (and probably did); so many of their action seem to cry out for some hidden explanation. It's too sad to contemplate.

Hels said...


I felt the same with the Titanic passengers who survived or drowned. In first class, I knew each person by name, age, gender, profession, income level, spouse, children, size of the cabin and the amount each 1st class passenger paid for his family and all his staff.

In second class, I knew the name, gender and age of each the famous writers, army officers and shipping company personnel.

In third class I know the total number of passengers in steerage and how many died. It felt like counting cattle.

WoofWoof said...

I too thought of Peggy's daughter. It almost seems as though some families are cursed. Personally I think everyone should go for counselling and prayer about family issues

Hels said...


Tragic :( I suppose if a person grows up in a home where their parents are dead, absent (physically or mentally) or severely unstable, the children will never learn to be stable parents themselves. In Peggy and Hazel's cases, they not only had no proper parenting models at home ... they also picked men who were unsuitable parents for the next generation.

Re medical intervention, Peggy had none that I could see. Hazel spent some time in a sanitarium where counselling was hopefully available.