Peggy Guggenheim


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Gallery owner, collector, and museum founder. An enthusiast for modern art, Guggenheim showed some of the most adventurous and important art of the early 1940s at her New York gallery, Art of This Century. This significant venue promoted contact between European modernists and their American successors, while helping also to legitimize the nascent abstract expressionist movement. Later, she lived in Venice, where she established a museum of twentieth-century art. Born in New York, Marguerite Guggenheim was the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim. Her father went down with the Titanic in 1912, leaving her with an independent but not unlimited income. In 1919 she moved to Paris and three years later married Paris-born, Cambridge-educated, American artist and writer Laurence Vail (1891–1968). The couple separated in 1929 and later divorced. In 1938 she opened a London gallery, Guggenheim Jeune, to show surrealist and abstract art. Following the inaugural show of work by Jean Cocteau, artists whose work appeared there included Kandinsky (his first solo appearance in London), Arp, Brancusi, Alexander Calder, Max Ernst, and Henry Moore. As World War II erupted, she returned to France in September 1939. There, as a gesture of support for artists, she bought their work in quantity. In July 1941 she fled to New York with her art, as well as Ernst, whom she soon married. Art of This Century created an art world sensation at its opening in October 1942. Its controversial exhibitions appeared in a futuristic interior designed by Frederick Kiesler. This setting featured curved walls, biomorphic furniture, and art works suspended in space. After she and Ernst separated in 1943, she increasingly refocused her attention from prominent Europeans to little known but up-and-coming American artists. Besides Jackson Pollock, artists who had their first one-person shows at her gallery included Adolph Gottlieb, Robert Motherwell, Richard Pousette-Dart, Ad Reinhardt, Mark Rothko, and Clyfford Still. In 1947 Guggenheim moved to Venice, thereafter her principal residence, and continued to acquire art. When she opened her Grand Canal palazzo to the public in 1951, her collection stood as the most comprehensive survey of modern art on display in Europe. Before she died in Padua, she had ceded permanent administrative control of her museum to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 1942 Guggenheim published Art of This Century, a carefully compiled catalogue of her collection. An autobiography, Out of This Century, appeared in 1946, followed in 1960 by a second volume of memoirs, Confessions of an Art Addict.

Subjects: Art.

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