Peggy Guggenheim : biography
Marguerite "Peggy" Guggenheim (August 26, 1898 – December 23, 1979) was an American art collector, bohemian and socialite. Born to a wealthy New York City family, she was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, who went down with the Titanic in 1912, and the niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, who would establish the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Peggy Guggenheim created a noted art collection in Europe and America primarily between 1938 and 1946. She exhibited this collection as she built it and, in 1949, settled in Venice, where she lived and exhibited her collection for the rest of her life.
According to both Guggenheim and her biographer Anton Gill, she had a voracious sexual appetite and it was believed that, while living in Europe, she had "slept with 1,000 men".http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10076464/Thomas-Messer.html She claimed to have had affairs with numerous artists and writers, and in return many artists and others have claimed affairs with her. She is even mentioned as having had affairs with fictional characters, for example William Boyd’s Nat Tate.William Boyd: Nat Tate: American Artist, 1928–1960, 21 Publishing Ltd, 1998Gill, pp?
Her first marriage was to Laurence Vail, a Dada sculptor and writer with whom she had two children, Michael Cedric Sindbad and Pegeen Vail. They divorced about 1928 following his affair with writer Kay Boyle, whom he later married. Soon after her first marriage dissolved, she briefly married John Holms, a writer with writer’s block who had been a war hero. Starting in late December 1939, she and Samuel Beckett had a brief but intense affair, and he encouraged her to turn exclusively to modern art. She married her third husband, Max Ernst, in 1941 and divorced him in 1946. She has eight grandchildren: Clovis, Mark, Karole and Julia Vail, from her son, and Fabrice, David and Nicolas Hélion and Sandro Rumney from her daughter.
Early life: inheritance, involvement in the art/writing community
Both of Peggy’s parents were of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Her mother, Florette Seligman (1870–1937), was a member of the Seligman family. When she turned 21 in 1919, Peggy Guggenheim inherited US$2.5 million, about US$ million in today’s currency. Guggenheim’s father, Benjamin Guggenheim, died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic and he had not amassed the fortune of his siblings; therefore her inheritance was far less than the vast wealth of her cousins.
She first worked as a clerk in an avant-garde bookstore, the Sunwise Turn, where she became enamored with the members of the bohemian artistic community. In 1920 she went to live in Paris, France. Once there, she became friendly with avant-garde writers and artists, many of whom were living in poverty in the Montparnasse quarter of the city. Man Ray photographed her,http://www.rijksmuseum.nl/aria/aria_assets/RP-F-F17662?lang=en and was, along with Constantin Brâncuşi and Marcel Duchamp, a friend whose art she was eventually to promote.
She became close friends with writer Natalie Barney and artist Romaine Brooks, and was a regular at Barney’s stylish salon. She met Djuna Barnes during this time, and in time became her friend and patron. Barnes wrote her best-known novel, Nightwood, while staying at the Devonshire country manor, ‘Hayford Hall’, that Guggenheim had rented for two summers.
Collecting, before World War II
In January 1938, Guggenheim opened a gallery for modern art in London featuring Jean Cocteau drawings in its first show, and began to collect works of art. After the outbreak of World War II, she purchased as much abstract and Surrealist art as possible.Walsh, John. , The Independent, October 21, 2009, accessed March 12, 2012
Her first gallery was called Guggenheim Jeune, the name being ingeniously chosen to associate the epitome of a gallery, the French Bernheim Jeune, with the name of her own well known family. The gallery on 30 Cork Street, next to Roland Penrose’s and E. L. T. Mesens’ show-case for the Surrealist movement, the London Gallery, proved to be successful, thanks to many friends who gave advice and who helped run the gallery. Marcel Duchamp, whom she had known since the early 1920s, when she lived in Paris with her first husband Laurence Vail, had introduced Guggenheim to the art world; it was through him that she met many artists during her frequent visits to Paris. He taught her about contemporary art and styles, and he conceived several of the exhibitions held at Guggenheim Jeune.