Peggy started working as a clerk in an original book store, known as the ‘Sunwise Turn.’ While working there, she fell in love with the “bohemian” culture and community.
In 1930, she moved to Paris, France, and became close friends with many original writers, photographers, and artists. Man Ray, Natalie Barney, and Romaine Brooks were some of the artist friends she made there.
She also became close friends with artist and journalist Djuna Barnes during her time in Paris. Later, Peggy showcased a lot of her friends’ works through her art museum.
In 1938, Guggenheim opened her first art gallery in London, to exhibit modern art. She started collecting art that seemed aesthetic to her eyes.
Her first art show featured the drawings of French poet Jean Cocteau. Her first galley, ‘Guggenheim Jeune,’ was named after the French gallery ‘Bernheim-Jeune.’
After World War II, she started purchasing Abstract and Surrealist art, which had become quite a hit with audiences and exhibitors by then. She got a lot of help from her friends and her then-husband, Laurence Vail, who introduced her to many artists and also installed many artworks in her art gallery.
With time, she held several exhibitions at her art gallery, featuring artists such as Yves Tanguy, Wolfgang Paalen, Henry Moore, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, and Wassily Kandinsky. She also organized sculpture exhibitions, featuring artists such as Jean Arp, Henri Laurens, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and John Ferren.
She started earning around £600 within the first year of the launch of her art gallery and decided to invest her money in building her business. In 1939, she bid farewell to her art gallery and set a vision to open the ‘Museum of Modern Art,’ along with English art historian and critic Herbert Read.
She left for Paris to arrange for loans for her first art exhibition. During this time, World War II broke out and she lost most of her paintings, loans, and artworks.
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This made her quit her original plans and re-collect tons of Abstract paintings, which included works by Picasso, Ernst, Magritte, Ferren, Man Ray, Klee, and Wolfgang Paalen. In 1940, she rented a huge place in ‘Place Vendôme,’ which served as the new place for her visionary museum.
However, she had to abandon the place and her dream of a museum in Paris due to the arrival of the Germans in Paris.
Following this, she moved to New York with her art collection and finally opened a new gallery, which was part of a museum. It was called ‘The Art of This Century Gallery.’
The galleries were dedicated to Cubist, Surrealist, Kinetic, and Commercial Art. She started inviting big artists for exhibiting their work in her art gallery.
Many popular shows, such as ‘31 Women Artists,’ were held at the gallery. During this time, she developed an interest in the works of artists such as Jackson Pollock, William Congdon, Wolfgang Paalen, and Ada Verdun Howell.
She had collected all the works within 7 years of opening the place in New York. In 1947, she closed ‘The Art of This Century Gallery’ and moved to Venice to spend the rest of her life there.
A year later, she was invited to showcase her collection at the ‘Greek Pavilion of the Venice Biennale.’ In 1949, she established her work at the ‘Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.’
During this time, she discovered two local painters, namely, Edmondo Bacci and Tancredi Parmeggiani. Throughout her career, she promoted a lot of new artists.
In the 1960s, she focused more on selling and exhibiting her own work rather than promoting works of other artists. By the end of the 1960s, she had loaned her collection to the ‘Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum’ in New York City, which belonged to her uncle.
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In 1976, she transferred her entire collection to the ‘Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Foundation’ and decided to retire.
Awards & Achievements
The ‘Peggy Guggenheim Collection,’ which is named after her, is one of the most popular museums of artwork in Italy. It is known for its massive collection European and American artworks, focusing on Surrealist, Cubist, and Abstract works of the early 20th century.
She was portrayed by Amy Madigan in the film ‘Pollock’ in 2000. The movie was based on the life of painter Jackson Pollock, who also happened to be a friend of hers. A play titled ‘Woman Before a Glass,’ based on Peggy’s life, opened at the ‘Promenade Theatre’ in New York in 2005.
A documentary named ‘Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict’ was released in 2015 and premiered at festivals such as the ‘San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.’
Family, Personal Life & Legacy
Peggy once admitted (and thus confirmed the rumor) that during her time in Europe, she had slept with a thousand men. Her biographer, Anton Gill, later admitted this was true.
She was known to have slept with many artists and writers and had affairs with a lot of them. Her lovers included Roland Penrose and Yves Tanguy.
She got married twice in her lifetime. She initially married Laurence Vail, who was a sculptor and writer. They were married from 1922 till their divorce in 1928. She had two children with him, Michael Cedric Sindbad Vail and Pegeen Vail Guggenheim. Pegeen grew up to be a painter.
The marriage ended due to Laurence’s affair with writer Kay Boyle. The couple married soon after Peggy and Laurence divorced.
Her second marriage was to painter Max Ernst. They were married from 1941 to 1946.
She had eight grandchildren. American museum curator and director Karole P.B. Vail is one of her grandchildren.
Peggy spent the final years of her life in Camposampiero, near Padua, Italy. She died of a stroke on December 23, 1979, at the age of 81.
Her remains are buried in the ‘Palazzo Venier dei Leoni’ (inside the ‘Peggy Guggenheim Collection’), alongside the graves of her dogs.