Women in the arts: Peggy Guggenheim
Born in 1898, Jewish-American Marguerite 'Peggy' Guggenheim hailed from a wealthy New York mining family of Swiss origin on her father's side, while her mother came from a prominent banking family of bankers. Her dad Benjamin was one of the ill-fated passengers who died on the Titanic in 1912.
In her early 20s, Guggenheim began working at a book shop, the Sunwise Turn, where she was swiftly embraced by a wide circle of intellectual and artistic types. It was in these circles that she met her first husband, Laurence Vail, a writer and Dada sculpter whom she married in 1922 and had two children with. From 1921, Giggenheim lived in Paris, mixing with Parisian bohemians, avant-garde artists and American expats. Among these acquaintances were artists Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp and poet and journalist Djuna Barnes, who would turn out to be lifelong friends.
Said to have a voracious sexual appetite (particularly for artists), Guggenheim left her husband Vail in 1928 for an English intellectual John Holms, who died tragically early in 1934 and is said to have been the love of her life. In January 1938, she opened an art gallery in London, Guggenheim Jeune, and began a career which would nurture some of the most prominent post-WWII artists of the time. Her first art show featured prolific French playwright, artist and director Jean Cocteau while her second featured Russian painter Vasily Kandinsky.
In 1939, tiring of her gallery, she soon set out purchasing contemporary masterpieces by artists like Francis Picabia, Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí and Piet Mondrian. Seemingly oblivious to the war around her, Guggenheim continued acquiring works until she was forced to flee Nazi-occupied France in 1941. After returning to New York with soon-to-be second husband Max Ernst (a German artist), Guggenheim began scouting for a site for her modern art museum, while continuing to collect Cubist, abstract and Surrealist art. By the time Art of This Century opened in 1942 Guggenheim's collection and exhibition rooms were viewed as the most extraordinary and forward-thinking in New York.
Guggenheim went on to champion American Abstract Expressionists like Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 1947, Peggy returned to Europe and in 1948 her by-now impressive modern art collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. She soon bought and moved into Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, the space which now houses the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Opening her house during summer to the public from 1951, Guggenheim continued to exhibit her works in Europe and New York until her death, aged 81, in 1979. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is considered one of the most important museums in Italy for its collection of European and American art from the first half of the 20th Century.
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