On World Art Day can we reflect on how important art is to our lives? Art is not just for decoration or for making money it actually changes the way you think. It should fill your soul, stimulate your senses and keeps you sane. Without art the world would be a drab miserable place.
Thank God for Peggy Guggenheim and others like her who recognized that even during war art is the only thing that will help us rebuild our lives. In 1939–40, Peggy relocated to Paris and busily acquired works for her collection, resolving to “buy a picture a day.” She purchased many masterpieces during these turbulent times, including works by Georges Braque, Salvador Dalí, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian and Francis Picabia, among others. She astonished Fernand Léger when she bought his Men in the City (1919) on the day that Hitler invaded Norway. She acquired Brancusi’s Bird in Space (1932–40) as the Germans approached Paris, and only then decided to escape the city to the South of France.
In July 1941, Peggy fled Nazi-occupied France and returned to her native New York, with her family and Max Ernst, who became her second husband a few months later.
The modern art that Peggy so busily acquired in those days laid the foundations for first her gallery in Manhattan then later her museum in Venice. By prioritizing the collection of modern art during the war when all the other museums in Europe were busy trying to save their Leonardo’s and Rembrandts, Peggy helped us to appreciate artist like Dali and the surrealist movement, Braque and Picasso the cubist movement. Peggy exhibited her collection of Cubist, abstract, and Surrealist art and held temporary exhibitions of leading European artists. She also showed the work of many young Americans that were unknown at the time, such as William Baziotes, David Hare, Robert Motherwell, Robert de Niro Sr, Jackson Pollock, Richard Pousette-Dart, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still.
Art of This Century soon became a center for all avant-garde activities. The young American artists … started an entirely ‘new’ school of painting … named Abstract Expressionism.
In 1947, Peggy decided to return to Europe, where she exhibited her collection for the first time at the 1948 Venice Biennale, in the Greek pavilion as the country was at civil war. Thus, the works of artists such as Arshile Gorky, Pollock, and Rothko were exhibited for the first time in Europe. The presence of Cubist, abstract, and Surrealist art made the pavilion the most coherent survey of Modernism yet to be shown in Italy.
Peggy acquired Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an unfinished mid-eighteenth-century building on the Grand Canal, where she spent the rest of her life. In 1949, she organized an exhibition of contemporary sculpture. In 1950, she organized the first European exhibition of works by Pollock in the Ala Napoleonica of the Museo Correr in Venice. Subsequently, her collection traveled to Florence and Milan, and later Amsterdam, Brussels, and Zurich. From 1951, Peggy opened her house and her collection several afternoons a week to the public in the spring, summer and early autumn months.
During her Venetian years, she continued to collect works of art and to support artists, such as the Italians Edmondo Bacci, Piero Dorazio, Tancredi Parmeggiani, and Emilio Vedova, as well as works by Marina Apollonio, Karel Appel, Francis Bacon, Kenzo Okada, Graham Sutherland among others. Peggy gave Tancredi a monthly stipend and a studio space in the basement of her palazzo, and organized a solo show in her home in 1954. In 1962, her adopted city nominated her an Honorary Citizen of Venice.
In 1969, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York invited Peggy to show her collection there. In 1970 she donated her palazzo and in 1976 her collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
The Foundation was created in 1937 by Peggy Guggenheim’s uncle Solomon, in order to promote the understanding of art and establish and operate “a museum or museums,” beginning with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum which holds his collection and, since 1959, has been housed in Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiral structure on upper Fifth Avenue in New York.
Peggy died aged 81 on 23 December 1979. Her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of her museum. Since then, under the oversight of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection has become one of the finest museums of modern art in the world.
I recently went to the Palm Beach Modern and Contemporary Art Fair in Palm Beach. The artwork behind me is by Dean West titled ‘Luis the Wrangler’. I love the alligator in the pool. I imagine this happens quite often in Florida but it’s not a problem we have in Virginia!
This is one of the paintings I particularly liked at the art fair by Mickael Doucet titled ‘Le Vent Leger de L’ete’. Something tells me that Peggy Guggenheim would have loved it, with its hints of Matisse and Mondrian in the composition it’s charming, witty and clever.
Whatever your personal preference of art genre is, I hope it fills you with joy and brings happiness to your life.
Information for this blog is gathered from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum website: https://www.guggenheim-venice.it/en/art/in-depth/peggy-guggenheim/about-peggy/