Stories

Venice 1969. Peggy Guggenheim

Collecting art is an obsessive-compulsive disorder, one with which Peggy Guggenheim was certainly afflicted. She lived furiously, travelling, loving, carrying, with her husbands, children, dogs, housekeepers, friends and lovers.

Words
LOLA GARRIDO
Photography
STEFAN MOSES

The flesh is weak but art remains, and that was her dominant passion. From Picasso to Tanguy, Ernst, Arp, Léger, from Brancusi to Giacometti, Laurens, Calder, from Beckett to Joyce, Breton, Eluard, Pollock and all the furious expressionists who came out of jazz and the beats. She got to know everyone, often intimately. She received them, sheltered them and helped them out. Every form of collecting hides a childhood frustration. Peggy seems to have been looking for affection, but the hundreds of lovers did not diminish – luckily – her drive as a collector. In one of Guggenheim’s last photographs in the Palazzo, she appears lying on her huge bed, beneath a sculptured headboard by Calder. Even in her final days and most intimate spaces, she brought together sex and art to produce a powerful and lasting art collection. She grew up in an environment with certain rules and tried to break them all.

Belonging to one of the most powerful and socially influential Jewish families in New York, Peggy was educated mostly at home, having at one point been expelled for shaving her eyebrows, and her childhood was lonely. Following the advice of her Uncle Solomon she bought an artwork every day. She moved to Paris in 1920. There, she left behind forever the destiny reserved for women of her pedigree, a good marriage and afternoons spent in Elizabeth Arden. The premature death of her father, who went down with the Titanic in 1912, was a trauma, and whether as a reminder or to ‘kill the Freudian father’, she lived the best years of her life sailing the emerald Venetian waters.

In one of Guggenheim’s last photographs in the Palazzo, she appears lying on her huge bed, beneath a sculptured headboard by Calder. Even in her final days and most intimate spaces, she brought together sex and art to produce a powerful and lasting art collection.

From that moment, she gave free rein to her eccentricities, trying to become a work of art herself. She bought the Venier dei Leoni Palace – formerly owned by Marchesa Casati – and once installed her aura was felt within its walls. She put in garden paintings, sculptures, removable phallic sculptures and Calder’s ‘mobiles’. She was not content with just 15 minutes of fame, as Warhol predicted. Nor did she buy any of his art.

Peggy created her own style, lived surrounded by lovers and beauty, which, with her healthy finances, made her one of the most modern and glamorous women of her time. She was where her fantasy took her.

Guggenheim wanted to be liked and to stimulate others. She knew the world well and invited much of it to her palace. Her apparent immunity to criticism and convention was perhaps another legacy she gifted the world. Gently balanced in her gondola, with the only private gondolier in Venice, she may have felt the water put her closest to the memory of her beloved father. Possibly the only man who loved her. Him and her innumerable pups.

Peggy Guggenheim in her motoscafo in the Grand Canal, Venice.


Photography © Stefan Moses
From the book Encounters with Peggy Guggenheim by Stefan Moses (Hardie Grant)
Published in Beauty Papers Issue Seven available here