Peggy Guggenheim. A Life Based on Art by Anton Gill. Who was Peggy?

  • Peggy Guggenheim was a pioneer in the field of modern art collecting. She was represented, inter alia, by Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Francis Bacon, Marc Chagall and Mark Rothko
  • The group, which she bought in 1937-1947, cost 250,000 dollars, its market value today is more than 350 million dollars.
  • She came from a family of Swiss Jews. The mother was eccentric, the father died in the tragic sinking of the Titanic
  • She can share her love life with many people. There were among her lovers, among others Beckett and Cage and the whole world of European avant-garde artists
  • On May 18, the book “Peggy Guggenheim. Life Dependent on Art” by Anton Gill (published by Znak) was reissued.
  • More important information can be found on Onet homepage

On May 18, the book “Peggy Guggenheim. Life Dependent on the Play” by Anton Gill was reissued.

Presents the biography of an amazing woman – Patron of modernity, patroness of modern art, friend, inspiration and lover of many artists. “Her life was just like the art she loved – surreal” – We read in the advertisement.

Photo: press material

“Peggy Guggenheim. A Life Addicted to Art” by Anton Gill (Hardcover)


Margaret “Peggy” Guggenheim was born in New York in 1898. She comes from a Swiss Jewish family. Her biographer Jacqueline Pograd Weld says families are full of ancestors and eccentrics. Her mother, Floret Seligman of the Ashkenazi banking line, did it all three times, and her aunt Fanny sang it all, making her husband excited about the shoemakers.

She had two sisters – Hazel and Benita. They were very close to each other, and unfortunately they died young. Although the family was respectable and relatively wealthy, Peggy did not appreciate it. She wanted adventure, loyalty, recognition and appreciation.

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Benita and Peggy Guggenheim with their dog Twinkle (1919)

Her father, Benjamin, was killed in the tragic sinking of the Titanic. After his death, he left little to inherit – it turns out he squandered his fortune wandering around the tankbods and tangles of New York. At 21, Peggy inherited $34.5 million in Today’s Dollars (it was “only” 2.5 million).

She graduated from Jacobi College, an elite school for Jewish girls. Immediately after the end of World War I, she began working as a receptionist. Rebelling against the aristocratic way of life and the future along with the wealthy American man, she got a job at the leading bookstore “The Sunwise Turn”, where, dressed in pearls, she met her best and most wonderful time.

Love of life – material for many novels

According to her biographer Anton Gill, Peggy was extremely sexually aroused. She has reportedly had over a thousand lovers, dozens of “longest” relationships and two marriages. Her first husband was the Dadaist writer and sculptor Lawrence Vail, with whom she had two children – Peggin and Sinbad. It was a turbulent relationship, her partner was beating and abusing her. In their marriage apartment, he organized wild parties to which he invited passers-by, prostitutes and tramps. All this embarrassment ended in divorce.

John Ferrar Holmes, a not very talented writer, was the love of a collector’s life. They were together for five years. He died during a routine surgery – his heart could not stand the anesthesia. Then there was Douglas Jarman, a Marxist who liked Stalin, who enrolled her in the party. He met a companion younger than him and went away, defying his former Trotskyist partner.

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Peggy Guggenheim in 1941.

In 1939, she had an affair with the then-unidentified Samuel Beckett, whom she met at a dinner at James Joyce’s Restaurant. They spent four days together without ever leaving bed. It was he who suggested that she focus on contemporary art. The relationship didn’t last because James, Peggy said, was loud and controversial.

Her second husband was the surrealist painter Max Ernst. For him, the relationship with Peggy was comfortable and guaranteed stability, especially during the Second World War. On the other hand, I fell in love with no memory. We didn’t have to wait long for the effects. After leaving for the United States, Ernst preferred to “fly” in Manhattan than to be an ideal husband. In the end, he escaped with his mistress, took the dog, and left for Arizona. So Peggy went to live with wealthy British intelligence resident Scott Kenneth Macpherson. This, however, favored the company of … young sailors.

Paris, London and Paris again

In 1920, she left for Paris, where she immediately made friends with the local avant-garde. Fascinated and amazed by French Bohemianism, she used her magic. She had a love affair with both women and men. Then her love for art was born. and sex.

The first artwork she bought was a bronze Jane Arp sculpture “Head and Shell” from 1933. She bought it for $300. Then there were others. The works of Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Wassily Kandinsky and René Magritte were acquired long before others noticed their talents and the value of their works.

In 1938, she moved to London, where she opened the “Guggenheim Jeune” exhibition. She had a good eye and intuition. She was slowly becoming an introduction, she was brave and relentless. Top Models: Dali, Miro, Mason, Picasso, Bora and Magritte.

However, the Guggenheim Gallery was not a profitable venture. And its creator needed a museum of contemporary art, a real institution. She could have turned to Uncle Solomon for help, but she wanted to remain independent and self-reliant. On June 22, 1939, a farewell party was held and the Guggenheim John was closed. It was then that Peggy began working with historian and art critic Herbert Read.

In August 1939, she went to Paris again to borrow the works of her first exhibition. She had a list of Red’s names in her pocket and 40,000. Gap. A few days later, war broke out. Plans changed and I started buying paintings – one a day, always one step ahead of the Nazis.

When the Germans captured the French capital, Peggy had to flee, she was finally Jewish. She went to the south of France, and hid the paintings acquired first in a private school for girls, and then in Megève in the Provencal Alps with Lawrence, who lived there after his divorce. However, the situation became more difficult as the Vichy government became openly anti-Semitic. Shipping company Lefebvre-Foinet transported the collection to Marseille, where it was shipped to New York as “personal belongings” so as not to arouse suspicion. Much of the pre-war European avant-garde settled there.

Photo: Tony Vaccaro/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Peggy Guggenheim in 1968.

Homecoming and a new era

In 1942, Peggy opened the Art of the Century gallery on 57th Street. She supported European and American art. It created a new space where the two mingled. It has shown works by Motherwell, de Kooning, Richter, Mondrian, Steele, Rothko, Van Doesburg and Chirico. Organized parties there continued until dawn – with chips and whiskey, in the company of nude actors on Broadway. Dr. Max Jacobson permanently introduced everyone to “vitamin injections” or amphetamines.

She was still buying paintings. In 1943, she decided to exhibit the works of 31 artists, including. Vinnie, Carrington and Kahlo, as well as Ernst’s future mistress, Dorothea Tanning. It was the first female exhibition in the male-dominated art world.

She became fascinated by American Abstract Expressionism, especially Jackson Pollock. She snatched him from a farm in Wyoming and brought him into the limelight. Until the end of her days, she believed that it was her greatest achievement and discovery.

Photo: Tony Vaccaro/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Peggy Guggenheim in 1968.

Venice – Its Place on Earth

In 1948, her group went to Venice to attend the local biennale. This event changed her life. In 1949, she bought the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and two years later she moved there with her “children”, as she described the paintings she had bought. The palace was hailed as a perfect marriage of elegance and modernity. Peggy has opened her home to all those who value true art above all else.

Guggenheim continued to expand his legacy over the next three decades. However, since the 1960s, I have mainly exhibited and loaned them to museums all over Europe. The collection, which she bought in 1937-1947, cost him 250,000 dollars. Its market value today is more than 350 million dollars. In the last years of her life she tried to protect her legacy. In 1976, she decided to allocate the property to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation, her uncle’s foundation.

Many came to Venice just for her, among them, among others, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Chagall, Capote and Vidal. She even had her own gondola. As Truman Capote wrote after his journey through Europe in his unfinished novel A Whole Life:

She died at the age of 81 in 1979. Her ashes are buried in the park with 14 Lhasa dogs.

Peggy – terrible brat, nymph, intruder

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Peggy Guggenheim in 1979.

What made Peggy Guggenheim become a legend in her life? There are those whose combinations are more impressive. Her uncle and philanthropist, Solomon R. Guggenheim, did not believe Peggy would achieve anything. She was told that she was uglier, dumb and less talented than the others. However it worked – it created something beautiful. Her collection is a monument to the unconditional existence of the spirit of freedom.

Aside from her love of art, her unconventional private life, and the need to shock, Peggy was crazy about entrepreneurship, artist lives, bohemian Paris, and grandmother. She was relentless. Virginity was a burden to her. The big nose that she inherited from Grandfather Meyer was not a problem for her – she did not need to be beautiful. Lively in a skirt, she was a goddess, inspiration and heroin of modern art. Addicted to sex, art and honesty.

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