Peggy Guggenheim: Saviour of Modern Art.

For Women’s History Month, I thought I would write about somebody who was instrumental in preserving many works of modern art. I am by no means an expert on Peggy Guggenheim, but her name has cropped up in several books I’ve read about the birth of modern art and, in particular, Surrealism. What stood out to me was her passion for art and her friend’s creative pursuits. But, as this short piece will tell you, her patronage of key movements such as Surrealism, Cubism and Abstractionism changed the fate of many paintings.

Peggy Guggenheim (1926). Photo supplied by Luciano Vecchio.

On the 26th of August 1898, Peggy Guggenheim had the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family residing in New York. Her father Benjamin Guggenheim had, along with his brothers, procured their finances through the mining and smelting of metals. Her mother Florette was also no stranger to affluence as part of the Seligman family who had made their money in the world of investment.

Being born into a privileged position in society allowed Peggy Guggenheim to travel and collect vast amounts of art along the way, perhaps taking inspiration from her uncle Solomon R. Guggenheim. She moved to Paris in the 1920s where she became involved with the avant-garde artists living in Montparnasse and later married Max Ernst a prominent Surrealist.

Whilst in Paris she educated herself about various movements, gathering one of the largest and most significant collections in modern art. Her collection ranged from works by Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) to Jean Cocteau (1889–1963) to Yves Tanguy (1900–1955). In the years after the outbreak of the Second World War (1939–1945), she set up her first art gallery in London, Guggenheim Jeune. This was soon followed by her New York Gallery, Art of the Century. The establishment of both galleries created a platform for artists who were little known in England and the United States to exhibit their work.

Art of the Century Gallery- Manhattan, New York

It’s interesting that, at the time, many of her contemporaries in the art world weren’t too interested in the art of the moment which included Surrealist, Cubist, and Abstract Art. The same could not be said for Peggy Guggenheim whose collection expanded to incorporate the works of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Salvador Dalí (1904–1989), and Georges Braque (1882- 1963).

Her patronage of these creatives is significant due to the fact that she saved many works of art from being lost from the pages of history. The rise of Nazism and its expansion into Europe saw the destruction of what had been deemed Degenerate Art. The term covered the majority of modernist works, including German-born painters such as Franz Marc who had given their lives in service of their country during the First World War (1914–1918). Peggy Guggenheim was all too aware of this growing threat and shipped her collection, which was located in Paris at the time, to New York under the guise of packed household goods. There she set up a community for artists to network.

The Degenerate Art Exhibition of 1937 was held in Munich.

Peggy Guggenheim’s passion for art saved many paintings which have become significant in art historiography and also helped to maintain the livelihoods of creatives who had been deemed degenerate by the Nazi Regime.

In later life, she settled in Venice and continued to exhibit her vast collection to the public. Founded in 1951 and situated in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the most popular attractions in Venice and can still be visited today.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Photo by Nathan Hughes Hamilton.

Peggy Guggenheim died in 1979 but the legacy she left behind lives on. Her collection continues to inspire and educate those who visit it. It’s safe to say that without her continued support, many of the artworks loved and admired by the public today would not have survived the Second World War.

This has been a very short introduction to Peggy Guggenheim and her significance to the History of Art. I hope that this small article encourages anybody reading this to explore her work further.

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Reading Connects the World: My Top Four International Libraries

It’s no secret to anybody who has read my work before that, like the majority of bibliophiles, I adore libraries. Whilst visiting various cities and villages around the UK I have always taken the chance to visit their libraries, one of which I ended up working at. This desire to visit such public institutions hasn’t been limited to my time travelling around the UK and pre-pandemic I started planning trips abroad. Along with museums and art galleries, historical houses and theatres, libraries were present on my bucket list of things to see. Unfortunately, like many of you, my plans were derailed by the Coronavirus outbreak. Whilst my plans to visit such wonderful educational institutions have been put on hold, I’m choosing to remain optimistic about the next few years. Below I have listed the top five libraries that I would like to visit once we return to a new state of normal.

The Admont Library- Austria

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The Admont Library- Photo by Jorge Royan

Situated in the Benedictine Monastery of Admont Abbey is the world’s largest monastery library. Designed in 1764 and constructed by Josef Hueber (1715–1787), the building was completed in the late baroque style in 1776. It’s seven ceilings were painted by then 80-year-old Bartolomeo Altomonte (1694–1783) who specialised in large scale frescoes in 1775. These murals were painted to depict the close relationship between religion and the arts and sciences. Furthermore, Josef Stammel’s (1695–1765) limewood carvings ‘The Four Last Things’ situated at different points within the library mark a great distinction from the light an airy feel of the murals. In Christian theology they represent the last stages of a man’s life: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Amongst all of this impressive architecture is the library collection itself which holds 70,000 manuscripts in the Abbey’s 200,000 strong collection.

Want to know which other libraries made my list? Read the full article by clicking on this link.