In­spi­red by a li­fe­long de­vo­tion to art and a cir­cle of il­lu­strious friends, Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim crea­ted a ve­ri­ta­ble hub of 20th cen­tu­ry art in Ve­ni­ce. Her col­lec­tion hou­sed at Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni on the Grand Canal is well wor­th a vi­sit!

Where Venice - - Contents - BY RO­ME­NA BRU­GNE­ROT­TO

Hou­sed at Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni, Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim's art col­lec­tion is well wor­th a vi­sit!

For cen­tu­ries, peo­ple ha­ve fal­len in lo­ve with Ve­ni­ce. It has been a ma­gnet for tou­rists for half a mil­len­nium and re­mains so to­day. Among the­se, one of the ma­ny who fell head over heels for its charms was Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim. One of the mo­st im­por­tant col­lec­tors of 20th-cen­tu­ry con­tem­po­ra­ry art, Peg­gy was so ena­mo­red with this ci­ty that she de­ci­ded to li­ve and sho­w­ca­se her art col­lec­tion he­re. At the end of the Se­cond World War, af­ter sear­ching for a palazzo that would ser­ve as bo­th her ho­me and a spa­ce for her work, she mo­ved her col­lec­tion from New York to Ve­ni­ce whe­re she crea­ted the world's mo­st unique hou­se museum lo­ca­ted on the Grand Canal. Be­fo­re dy­ing, Peg­gy do­na­ted her pa­la­ce and works of art to the So­lo­mon R. Gug­ge­n­heim Foun­da­tion, with the con­di­tion that the col­lec­tion re­main in Ve­ni­ce.

To­day, the Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim Col­lec­tion is a pil­gri­ma­ge si­te for art en­thu­siasts from around the world and, at the sa­me ti­me, has a strong com­mit­ment to the lo­cal com­mu­ni­ty. From in­tern­ship pro­grams for international stu­den­ts to af­ter-hours cock­tail par­ties for lo­cals – and even an en­ti­re week at the end of No­vem­ber de­di­ca­ted to the re­si­den­ts of Ve­ni­ce – Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni of­fers plen­ty of op­por­tu­ni­ties for the pu­blic to go beyond the ty­pi­cal museum vi­sit and ex­pe­rien­ce its beau­ty in a va­rie­ty of set­tings.


Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim was born in 1898 to a ve­ry af­fluent fa­mi­ly. Part of the pri­vi­le­ged eli­te, bo­th of her pa­ren­ts we­re well-kno­wn fi­gu­res in Ame­ri­ca, but her fa­ther died in 1912 on board the ill-fa­ted Ti­ta­nic. In 1921, Peg­gy ar­ri­ved in Eu­ro­pe whe­re, through her hu­sband Lau­ren­ce Vail, she joi­ned the Ame­ri­can ex­pa­tria­te bo­he­mian set and be­ca­me ac­quain­ted with ma­ny of the lea­ding fi­gu­res of the avant-gar­de in Pa­ris and Lon­don in­clu­ding Con­stan­tin Bran­cu­si and Mar­cel Du­champ, who in­tro­du­ced her to the world of con­tem­po­ra­ry art.

She ope­ned the 'Gug­ge­n­heim Jeu­ne' art gal­le­ry in Lon­don in 1938 at the age of 39, whi­ch mar­ked her en­tran­ce in­to the world of art pa­tro­na­ge. Her ti­re­less de­di­ca­tion to po­st­war art be­ca­me one of the mo­st im­por­tant ca­ta­lysts for its ap­pre­cia­tion on a lar­ger sca­le. Fol­lo­wing the ope­ning of her gal­le­ry, Peg­gy be­ca­me ex­ci­ted by the idea of ope­ning a con­tem­po­ra­ry art museum and ac­qui­red coun­tless works of art for her col­lec­tion un­der the gui­dan­ce of her ar­ti­st friends as well as art cri­tic Her­bert Read. In 1941, Peg­gy, who was of Jewi­sh de­scent, was for­ced to flee Na­zi-oc­cu­pied Fran­ce and re­turn, with her col­lec­tion, to New York. A few mon­ths la­ter, she met and mar­ried sur­rea­li­st ar­ti­st Max Ern­st. The fol­lo­wing year she ope­ned a new gal­le­ry cal­led ‘Art of This Cen­tu­ry' whi­ch soon be­ca­me the pre­mier ve­nue for con­tem­po­ra­ry art in the ci­ty. At the ope­ning, Peg­gy

wo­re two mi­smat­ched ear­rings crea­ted by two of her ar­ti­st friends, Yves Tan­guy and Ale­xan­der Cal­der, to de­mon­stra­te, as she re­mar­ked, her “im­par­tia­li­ty bet­ween Sur­rea­li­st and Ab­stract art.”

Whi­le in New York, Peg­gy wor­ked ti­re­les­sly. She or­ga­ni­zed tem­po­ra­ry ex­hi­bi­tions fea­tu­ring works by lea­ding Eu­ro­pean ar­tists and un­k­no­wn young Ame­ri­cans in­clu­ding Ro­bert Mo­ther­well, Wil­liam Ba­zio­tes, Mark Ro­th­ko, Ro­bert de Ni­ro Sr., Clyf­ford Still and the gal­le­ry's star at­trac­tion Jack­son Pol­lock, to whom she de­di­ca­ted a so­lo show at the end of 1943.


At the end of the war, Peg­gy de­ci­ded to re­turn to Eu­ro­pe whe­re her col­lec­tion was sho­wn at the 1948 Ve­ni­ce Bien­na­le, the fir­st ex­hi­bi­tion in Eu­ro­pe fea­tu­ring the work of ar­tists su­ch as Pol­lock, Gor­ky and Ro­th­ko. Peg­gy wan­ted to ma­ke Eu­ro­pe and, in par­ti­cu­lar, Ve­ni­ce her ho­me. The fol­lo­wing year she bought Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni, a ‘stran­ge' palazzo on the Grand Canal. It on­ly had a ground floor be­cau­se, ac­cor­ding to le­gend, with the fall of the Ve­ne­tian Re­pu­blic, the fa­mi­ly, too, fell from gra­ce. Du­ring the sum­mer of the sa­me year her col­lec­tion was ope­ned for pu­blic viewing.

In 1962, Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim was ma­de an ho­no­ra­ry ci­ti­zen of Ve­ni­ce. She con­ti­nued to col­lect and sup­port ar­tists. Her col­lec­tion grew in sta­tu­re with the ac­qui­si­tion of pie­ces by Ed­mon­do Bac­ci and Tan­cre­di Par­meg­gia­ni. To­wards the end of her li­fe, Peg­gy do­na­ted the pa­la­ce and her col­lec­tion to the Gug­ge­n­heim Foun­da­tion, esta­bli­shed by her un­cle, So­lo­mon R. Gug­ge­n­heim, who was al­so a de­vo­ted afi­cio­na­do of con­tem­po­ra­ry art. His col­lec­tion has been on di­splay in the fa­mous Frank Lloyd Wright buil­ding on New York's 5th Ave­nue sin­ce

1959. Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim died at the age of 81 and her ashes are bu­ried in a cor­ner of the museum's gar­den.

In her can­did au­to­bio­gra­phy ti­tled “Out of this Cen­tu­ry: Con­fes­sions of an Art Ad­dict,” Peg­gy pro­vi­ded an in­si­der's view of the ear­ly days of 20th-cen­tu­ry art, with re­vea­ling ac­coun­ts of her ec­cen­tric, weal­thy fa­mi­ly, her per­so­nal and pro­fes­sio­nal re­la­tion­ships, and of­ten sur­pri­sing por­tra­yals of the ar­tists them­sel­ves.


When vi­si­ting Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni vi­si­tors will find them­sel­ves im­mer­sed in a unique en­vi­ron­ment whi­ch Peg­gy her­self hel­ped to sha­pe by gra­dual­ly en­lar­ging the spa­ces of the museum. A lu­sh green cen­tral in­te­rior gar­den ador­ned with sculp­tu­res di­vi­des

the spa­ces in­to two parts. The per­ma­nent col­lec­tion of her works is ex­hi­bi­ted in the palazzo over­loo­king the Grand Canal with a se­ries of works ran­ging from Cu­bi­sm to the la­st part of her col­lec­tion fea­tu­ring works from the ‘50s. Lo­ca­ted hi­gher up, the beau­ti­ful ter­ra­ce is used for ex­hi­bi­tions and pri­va­te even­ts. The spa­ces on the other si­de of the gar­den are used to sho­w­ca­se tem­po­ra­ry ex­hi­bi­tions whi­ch, thanks to skill­ful cu­ra­ting, are not on­ly in­te­re­sting and en­ga­ging, but al­so con­si­de­red a foun­da­tion for the stu­dy of con­tem­po­ra­ry art. The spa­ces of the museum are com­pli­men­ted by a ca­fè and a book­shop. La­st sum­mer, af­ter a 30-year ca­reer, the museum's di­rec­tor Phi­lip Ry­lands han­ded over the reins to Peg­gy's grand­daughter Ka­ro­le P.B. Vail, a pas­sio­na­te scho­lar of con­tem­po­ra­ry art. The museum is ex­pe­rien­cing a par­ti­cu­lar­ly suc­ces­sful pe­riod with re­cord at­ten­dan­ce, im­por­tant ini­tia­ti­ves and the in­jec­tion of new fun­ding to en­lar­ge the spa­ce. The peo­ple of Ve­ni­ce, who still ha­ve fond me­mo­ries of Peg­gy as she tra­vel­led around Ve­ni­ce on her gon­do­la, hold the museum in hi­gh esteem and are al­ways rea­dy to wel­co­me ‘fo­re­sti'

(the Ve­ne­tian word for non-na­ti­ves) who lo­ve and re­spect their ci­ty.

The museum is open dai­ly (ex­cept on Tue­sdays) from 10am to 6pm. Tic­ke­ts can be pur­cha­sed at the museum's tic­ket of­fi­ce or on­li­ne at www.gug­ge­n­heim-ve­ni­ museum/in­fo_­bi­gliet­te­ria.html. Eve­ry day at 12-noon and 4pm the museum of­fers vi­si­tors a brief sy­nop­sis of Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim's li­fe and the hi­sto­ry of her col­lec­tion. Eve­ry day, at 11am and 5pm, the museum of­fers talks about the works on view in the col­lec­tion. Eve­ry day at 3.30pm the museum of­fers talks on ei­ther a tem­po­ra­ry ex­hi­bi­tion or the museum itself. Talks are held ei­ther in En­gli­sh or Ita­lian de­pen­ding on the avai­la­bi­li­ty of the gui­des. The museum of­fers pri­va­te gui­ded tours af­ter clo­sing hours for groups of from 1 to 10 peo­ple. For mo­re in­for­ma­tion con­tact the or­ga­ni­zers via email at spe­cia­le­ven­ts@ gug­ge­n­heim-ve­ni­ Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim Col­lec­tion Palazzo Ve­nier dei Leo­ni Dor­so­du­ro, 701-704

T: 041 2405411

Va­po­ret­to li­ne 1,

Ac­ca­de­mia stop or Sa­lu­te stop. www.gug­ge­n­heim-ve­ni­

Over­loo­king the Grand Canal, Peg­gy Gug­ge­n­heim's Ve­ne­tian re­si­den­ce – now ho­me to her col­lec­tion – of­fers vi­si­tors an un­for­get­ta­ble at­mo­sphe­re. Pic­tu­red he­re, an ico­nic por­trait of the fa­mous col­lec­tor and arts pa­tron ta­ken in Ve­ni­ce in 1950. When tal­king about Ve­ni­ce, Peg­gy said: “Li­ving in Ve­ni­ce, or sim­ply vi­si­ting it, means fal­ling in lo­ve with it and lea­ving no room in your heart for any­thing el­se.”

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