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Peggy Guggenheim

Collector - Beginner




M arguerite Guggenheim, more popularly known as Peggy Guggenheim, was born on August 26, 1898, in New York City to a wealthy family. Her father, Benjamin Guggenheim, who had been on board the Titanic, died when the ship sank in 1912. As a result of this accident, Peggy inherited her father’s fortune when she was only twenty-one. The vast wealth allowed her to escape the bourgeois society she despised and pursue her own interests living a free-spirited life which would ultimately make her one of the most significant figures in the 20th-century art scene.

In 1922, Peggy married a Dadaist artist named Laurence Veil and because of him met a number of writers and painters on the rise. It was during this period that she first acquired an interest in art. The two split in 1930 after which Peggy immediately moved to Paris and adopted a bohemian lifestyle. She used her wealth to support struggling artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Hans Hofmann, acquiring numerous artworks in the process. Her circle of close friends and acquaintances included the likes of James Joyce, Alberto Giacometti, Salvador Dali, Constantin Brâncuși, Pablo Picasso, Ezra Pound, and many others. She had a brief affair with Samuel Beckett and supported the work of both Robert De Niro’s parents, Virginia Admiral, and Robert De Niro Sr.

Near the end of the decade, Peggy moved to London and opened her first art gallery, Guggenheim Jeune. She was also set on opening a museum, but her plans were thwarted by the onset of WWII. Already a passionate art aficionado and self-proclaimed art addict, she was appalled by the Nazi’s rampant destruction of art throughout Europe. As a result, she adopted the motto “buy a picture a day” and set out to claim as many pieces as she could.

In just a matter of months, Peggy acquired hundreds of sculptures and paintings. However, few thought that any of them were worth saving. When the Louvre refused to take the collection, Peggy made a daring move that eventually placed her among some of the most important people of the 20th century. Right under the Nazi’s noses, she managed to smuggle hundreds of art pieces into the U.S. Artwork she had acquired for just a few dollars at the time are worth billions today.

She eventually fled to the U .S. herself but first moved to Venice after the war ended. There she bought the Palazzo Venier del Leoni, an Italian style mansion on the Grand Canal which she turned into a home-museum. Peggy died on December 23, 1979, leaving her entire collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation with the request that the pieces she had displayed in her home in Venice stay in Venice. Today, Venier del Leoni is a museum, and it still holds all the pieces that were there at the time of her death, including those of Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. These days no trip to Venice is complete without a visit to the home of a woman who almost single-handedly saved the art of an entire generation. 

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