Index of Historic Collectors and Dealers of Cubism
Guggenheim, Peggy
New York, 1898–Venice, 1979
Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim was an American collector and patron of modern art. Guggenheim’s personal collection was comprised of Cubist, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist works by American and European artists. She acquired a significant portion of her collection in London and Paris in 1938–41 and later in New York in 1941–46, although she continued to add to it until the early 1970s. Today, her collection is a part of the larger network of museums managed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice, her home from 1948 until her death in 1979.

Guggenheim was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim and Florette Seligman, both of whom were independently wealthy. The Seligmans were successful New York bankers; the Guggenheims made their fortune in the mining industry in the late nineteenth century. After spending her childhood in New York, in 1921 Guggenheim moved to Paris. There, she led a bohemian life and developed friendships with avant-garde artists, including Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp. Duchamp, in particular, would play a central role in the development of Guggenheim’s personal collection in the late 1930s.

The beginning of Guggenheim’s career as a collector dates to 1938, when she opened the Guggenheim Jeune Gallery in London and began purchasing works by the artists she exhibited. Due to financial difficulties and the onset of the war, this first project was short lived and the gallery closed the following year. Guggenheim also abandoned plans to open a modern art museum in London, instead returning to Paris to begin assembling a personal collection with the advice of Duchamp. The threat of war caused instability in the Parisian art market and created unique opportunities for the collector to acquire art at reduced prices. Guggenheim acquired works at an incredibly fast rate until 1941, when the German occupation of France finally forced her to return to the United States.

During the turbulent years in Paris, Guggenheim purchased the major part of her European collection. Among the works now exhibited in her Venetian home are many examples of Cubism, including George Braque’s The Clarinet (1912); Robert Delaunay’s Windows Open Simultaneously 1st Part, 3rd Motif (1912); Albert Gleizes’s Woman with Animals (1914); Juan Gris’s Bottle of Rum and Newspaper (1914); Fernand Léger’s Men in the City (1919); and Picasso’s The Poet (1911). Other highlights from the collection include Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space (1932–40), Alexander Calder’s Arc of Petals (1941), Giorgio de Chirico’s The Red Tower (La Tour Rouge) (1913), Salvador Dalí’s Birth of Liquid Desires (1931–32), Motherwell’s Personage (Autoportrait) (1943), and Pollock’s Alchemy (1947), among many others.

Back in New York, Guggenheim opened Art of This Century on West 57th Street, an innovative art gallery designed for her collection by Frederick Kiesler. By the time it closed in 1946, the institution had become an important venue for emerging American artists, providing a place to both exhibit their work and meet more established artists of the European avant-garde. All the while, Guggenheim continued to build her collection with a new focus on the work of the Abstract Expressionist artists that frequented her gallery. Through Art of This Century, Guggenheim provided patronage and crucial financial support to Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, and Jackson Pollock, among others.

In 1947 Guggenheim returned to Europe, eventually settling into the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal in Venice. The following year, she exhibited her collection at the Venice Biennale, presenting for the first time in Europe the work of such American artists as Pollock and Mark Rothko. In 1951 she began opening her home during the summer months to allow visitors to see her collection. She donated her home in 1970, and her collection seven years later, to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection opened to the public in 1980, a year after her death.

Contributed by Maria Castro, July 2017
For more information, see:
Prose, Francine. Peggy Guggenheim: The Shock of the Modern. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Rudenstine, Angelica Zander. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. New York: H. N. Abrams, 1985.