Spotlight on Peggy Guggenheim, The Art World’s First Girl Boss

Joanne Artman Gallery
Aug 9, 2018 6:09PM

Socialite, bohemian, muse, and shrewd collector - Peggy Guggenheim is remembered for many things, but chief among them are her keen sense of style and support of artists from the Dada, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist movements. Her largest contribution and lasting legacy resides with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice which houses one of the world’s premier collections of modern art in a stately Venetian palazzo, situated on the picturesque Grand Canal. Throughout her professional accomplishments, Peggy’s story is both fascinating and important, as she managed to gain respect and recognition in the male dominated world of modern art during the combustive period between the women’s suffrage movement and the Second World War.

Peggy Guggenheim, c. 1930 (Image Courtesy of Kikkoman’s)

Born in 1898 into a prestigious family in New York, with a fortune built on smelting metals and banking, Peggy’s childhood was marked by tragedy when her father died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. After inheriting a small fortune (about 35 million in today’s dollars), Peggy shrugged off her upper-crust socialite image, choosing to work as a clerk at an avant-garde bookstore and leading a bohemian lifestyle with members of the NYC art community. She continued to build her milieu after her move to Paris, where many of the artists lived in poverty in the Montparnasse quarter of the city. Peggy’s circle at the time included artists such as Man Ray, Constantin Brancusi, and Marcel Duchamp. Such relationships became a vital part of her later career, as Peggy cultivated a fledgling enterprise in London as an art dealer, with many of her early friendships contributing to her developing taste, discerning eye, and love of art. At the gallery Guggenheim Jeune, Peggy promoted the work of artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Yves Tanguy, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, and Kurt Schwitters. Amongst recognized modern masters, Peggy showed the work of relative unknowns despite a lack of profit, establishing both their careers as well as what is taught today as the history of modern art.

Exterior view of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Image Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Peggy’s idea for a museum was no doubt inspired by the work of her uncle, Solomon R. Guggenheim, who had just established a foundation (later museum) in New York City. Her plans to open her own museum enterprise were put on hold as WWII broke out, leaving her stranded with the funds saved for the museum’s running costs. Peggy instead used these savings to invest in the works of artists such as Picasso, Ernst, Miro, Magritte, Dali, Klee, Man Ray, and Chagall. From beginning to end, it took her about seven years to amass her entire collection, including picking up Jackson Pollock as a humble carpenter at her uncle’s museum, and giving him his first exhibition in 1950 at the Museo Correr in Venice.

Peggy Guggenheim’s legacy was built on a true love of art, yet many of her accomplishments are too often mentioned in the same sentence as her storied love life (with claims that she slept with over 1,000 men by the time she left Europe). Though whether her sexual appetite really was as voracious as many of her biographers will claim, or whether it was inflated (perhaps even by Peggy herself), to give her more dominance as a woman in a male-led field, we will never know. However, what remains clear is her affinity and commitment to the art movements of her generation and the largest testament to her life - the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice.

Writen by JoAnne Artman Gallery  ||

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Joanne Artman Gallery