To Dream, to Collect

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Marguerite Peggy Guggenheim was born in 1898 to a fabulously wealthy New Yorkais family, and the niece of Salomon R. Guggenheim who the founder of the Guggenheim foundation. Peggy lost her father Benjamin at a young age as he went down with the Titanic in 1912. In 1919 She inherited a small, in regards to the rest of the Guggenheims, fortune from her father and so in the start of her twenties she was off to Europe, finding Paris and the “lost generation” of expats consisting of none others than Hemmingway and Fitzgerald.

 

Peggy in Paris 

 

It was evident from the start, and Peggy was never shy about the fact, that her predominant interests were art and sex. She discovered the frescos of Pompeii, depicting people making love in strange positions, and was of course very eager to try them all out herself. It was this forwardness she displayed that caught the attention of her first husband author Laurence Vail. It was a turbulent marriage that resulted in two children and eventually a divorce. Peggy went on to marry one other time after that, but not before enjoying a sea of casual affairs in between. It was this kind of behavior that earned her the name enfant terrible of the Guggenheim family and it did not exactly help that she went on publishing it all for the public in her tell-all autobiography Out of this century. What was unique about Peggy was that she did not belong just to one place, she moved around in the Avant-garde circles in different cities and even on different continents. This is what differentiated her and in a way portrays her as an indeed very modern woman.

In January 1938 Peggy opened her first gallery Guggenheim Jeune in London, and drawing from French artist Jean Cocteau was the gallery’s first exhibition. She would go on exhibiting important artists from the surrealist and cubist movements of which she was especially found; amongst the artists were Wassily Kandinsky, Henry Moore and Max Ernst. This made her gallery one of the corner stones in the modern art movement but unfortunately it was not a financial success, so Peggy always bought at least one piece from each of the artists she exhibited, and thus starting her collection. She continued to collect art ferociously in the years up until the Second World War, when she returned to New York accompanied by her lover and later second husband surrealist painter Max Ernst.

 

Peggy photographed by Man Ray 

 

After the war Peggy did not hesitate to return to her beloved Europe, and so ended her yet another turbulent marriage with Ernst. She chose to settle down in Venice where she bought herself a palace. Here is where she displayed her magnificent collection of art.  It later became the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, now one of Venice’s top attractions. Peggy was unarguably a rebel in a very traditional society that had a standard role for women, a role which she rejected and refused to play by. In this sense she was before her time, the same can be said for the way she collected art.

 

She was never regarded as an intellectual, and lacked a formal education, but she had no problem moving in those circles. But beyond this, the relationships she formed with the artists she befriended was a truly genuine one, for which she will always be remembered as one of the most important art patrons in history. As time passes people remember her less just for her promiscuity and more for her position in the art world and what a pivotal role she actually held in these artists lives.

 

She was mentored by Marcel Duchamp, and developed an impeccable eye for, what is considered today, the masterpieces of modern art. Even though Peggy collected in what some of her contemporaries would argue to be an irrational and an unstructured way, it turned out to be quite the success because she always stayed passionate and true to what she loved. She collected art to keep, not to sell and ended up accumulating a collection worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Most of the pieces she collected from the then unknown artists still sit in her palace. So with Peggy’s ashes buried outside in the sculpture garden under a bed of marguerites, it is as if her dolce vita with all of her artist friends is still continuing its course.

 

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