IN LOVE WITH ART
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!
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.
FROM NEW YORK TO EUROPE
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.
BEYOND THE BIENNALE
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.
ART FOR EVERYONE
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-venice.it/ 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-venice.it. Peggy Guggenheim Collection Palazzo Venier dei Leoni Dorsoduro, 701-704
T: 041 2405411
Vaporetto line 1,
Accademia stop or Salute stop. www.guggenheim-venice.it
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.”