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PEGGY GUGGENHEIM
Peggy Guggenheim was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, one of the legendary Guggenheim brothers (Solomon, thus, was her uncle). Benjamin preferred the life of a playboy to banking, mining, and metal smelting. He agreed to be bought out for five million circa 1900 dollars, but went down in the Titanic (1912) when Peggy was fourteen. Learn how Peggy then lived to become one of the most influential women in the art world! Since this is the last day of Women's History Month, let's talk about the irrepressible Peggy Guggenheim!
Early on, a rebel against Our Crowd society (her mother also was a Seligman), she met Lost Generation artists and writers at her job in an avant-garde bookshop, and learned about modern art from her cousin, painter Harold Loeb. Peggy soon made her way to a bohemian life in Europe and marriage to Lawrence Vail, a Dadaist sculptor known for decorated bottles. After two children, the marriage was over and Peggy was on to what became her career.

She established her first gallery in London, 1938, calling it Guggenheim Jeune, (Guggenheim the younger) after the famed Paris gallery, Bernheim Jeune. There, she gave Kandinsky a one person show. Already, she was engaged in a rivalry with her Uncle Solomon who started exhibiting modern art in his apartment, and then, with Baroness von Rebay, established his Museum of Non-Objective Art (1936). When Peggy lost money with her gallery, she thought, why not have a museum too? With the help of British art critic Herbert Read, she drew up a list of top modern artists, and went to Paris to buy examples.  Photo: Peggy in a 1924 portrait by Man Ray
As the Nazi’s were gaining control in Europe, Peggy knew she had to pick up the pace of her purchases, and vowed to buy a painting a day (she says she lived up to her word). Her shopping list included ten Picassos, forty Ernsts, eight Miros, four Magrittes, three Man Rays, three Dalis, and one Chagall.
 
Before the Nazi’s marched into Paris, she fled, carefully safeguarding her collection, which made it to New York, intact. At that time, the heroic efforts of Varian Fry and his Emergency Rescue Committee were enabling several thousand refugee intellectuals, often using forged papers, to leave Europe. It was through Fry that Peggy Guggenheim arranged the escape of her artist friends, Matta, Lam, Andre Breton, and Max Ernst (whom she married in NY, saving him from deportation). 
"Artists in Exile", Peggy Guggenheim's apartment, New York, 1942. Front row: Stanley William Hayter, Leonara Carrington, Frederick Kiesler, Kurt Seligmann. Second Row: Max Ernst, Amedee Ozenfant, Andre Breton, Fernand Leger, Berenice Abbott. Third Row: Jimmy Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim, John Ferren, Marcel Duchamp, Piet Mondrian. Photograph: The Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 
Peggy didn’t slow down in New York. She established her Art of this Century Gallery, It sold art in the front room, and showed her collection of cubism and surrealism in the back, so it was, in a sense, the museum she never had in London. Immediately, it created a sensation for its curvilinear walls and perpendicular art installations) designed by Austrian architect-exile Frederick Kiesler. Art of this Century became the meeting place between the exiled Surrealists and the American artists they would most influence, the Abstract Expressionists.
Inspired by her gallery program, Robert Motherwell, articulated his theory that automatism (pictorial invention by free association, with images arising from the unconscious) was the link between Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. That concept took hold, and Peggy quickly became the central figure of patronage for both groups, Her gallery took on the new American artists. She gave shows to Clifford Still, Mark Rothko, Robert De Niro, Sr., Motherwell, and most famously, to Jackson Pollock, who was a maintenance man at her uncle’s museum when she met him. Photo: Peggy and Max at her gallery.
Not long after the war ended, Peggy tired of her activities as a gallerist, and Europe beckoned. She placed her best American artists with Betty Parsons as her successor gallery. In her autobiography, Out of this Century, Peggy said, “I loved Europe more than America, and when the war ended I couldn’t wait to go back…. On my way there, I decided Venice would be my future home. I had always loved it more than any place on earth and felt I would be happy alone there.”

With the resumption of the Venice Biennale, Peggy was invited to exhibit her collection at the Greek pavilion in 1948. By 1949, she had purchased the Palazzo Venier di Leoni, (unfinished palace of the lion) which became the venue for her collection. After seeing numerous treasures of modernism, visitors always remember the elaborate Calder designed silver bedstead (decorated with fish, insects, and plants), and the garden statue by Marini, his nude horseback rider with the detachable phallus!

Peggy and her uncle Solomon couldn’t stand each other, and for most of her life she wanted nothing to do with him. But, blood is thicker than water, and much to everyone’s surprise she left her collection and Palazzo joined to the Guggenheim Museum, and today the Guggenheim art endeavors are finally united.   Photo: Peggy Guggenheim with her dogs on the terrace of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1950, photo by David Seymour.
Peggy Guggenheim saved modern art. It is that simple. She is at once its Queen and Joan of Arc. Her accomplishments have been overshadowed by fascination with her famous family, outrageous antics, and scandalous love affairs. By her own count, she slept with a thousand men, and when asked how many husbands she had, responded, “my own, or other people's?” but had it not been for Peggy Guggenheim, the exiled surrealists would have starved, even if they had made it to New York, and Abstract Expressionism would never have been launched. Her final role was as the modern day “dogessa” of Venice, and there, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (see photo), now the Guggenheim Venice, is her lasting legacy.
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