Peggy Guggenheim: the eccentric venetian dogaressa 

5 April 2022

Brilliant, mysterious, and eccentric. In her eighties she was given the honorary citizenship and was proclaimed as the “last venetian dogaressa”. This is the title with which Peggy Guggenheim marked the history of a city that has more than 1600 years. 

Art dealing was her thing, although she did not want to be defined as an art collector. “No no – she used to say – I am a museum”. This is a completely different thing: this is culture, something useful for other people``. She used to say that art was her bad habit and, with the same ease with which she managed to catch the effort of great artists such as Kandinskji, Duchamp and Picasso, she showed fiercely her butterfly shaped glasses, the symbol of her eccentric personality as well as her Terrier Lhasa Apsos dogs. 

Peggy Guggenheim was born in New York on August 26, 1898, from a Swiss Jewish family. She was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, whose family made a fortune over the mineral and steel industry, and Florette Seligman, daughter of one of the most important families of American bankers. Peggy though, aware of her artistic eye, decided to follow a completely different path and dedicate her whole life to art and research. 

Strong and fearless, Peggy Guggenheim made her own way through art with her own hands. She became a collector, a patron of art and an example of international social life, among friends, husbands, lovers, and paintings. It all began with a job as accountant at the Sunwise Turn bookshop, owned by his cousin. Many were the artists, intellectuals, and writers who used to come here to buy a book and that’s here, among old manuscripts and creative people who draw the new artistic movements of modern history, that Peggy paved her way towards her fate. One day, in this place, that girl who was still looking for her place in the world knew a painter who changed her life forever. They fell in love, got married in Paris in 1922 and had two children: Sindbad and Pegeen, the latter a great art lover as her mother. 

With her strength and creativity, Peggy Guggenheim managed to make her dream come true. As a matter of fact, it was in 1938 that she opened her first art gallery, Guggenheim Jeune, in London and later, in 1942, she also opened the Art of This Century in New York. 

In 1942 her art collection was growing, she already owned masterpieces of Giorgio De Chirico, Paul Klee, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, Joan Mirò and, in the very same year, she saw the talent of Jackson Pollock and decided to sponsor his works by providing him a space where show his works right in her gallery. Later, she also arranged international exhibitions that led her to present her own pavilion at the Biennale of Venice in 1948. 

She was madly in love with Venice, the city of art. In Venice she bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni along the Grand Canal, where she later moved. The greatest romance between Venice and Peggy Guggenheim had begun. What used to be a home later became a museum, one of the most important museums of European and American art, with masterpieces that adhered to several artistic movements, such as: Cubism, Surrealism and Expressionism. With its unusual architecture, which is different from all the other venetian palaces, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is an unconventional place that fits perfectly for an unconventional woman as Peggy used to be. Her residence became a place for parties, shows and intellectual meetings. Moreover, she was the first who had the intuition to open the doors of her residence to visitors, in order to allow them to enjoy her art collection, anticipating what the Peggy Guggenheim collection will become later. 

“If anything can rival Venice in its beauty, it must be its reflection at sunset in the Grand Canal”, and it is in these words that we can feel how Peggy loved Venice. In 1962 in Venice she was also given the honorary citizenship and, right in the garden of her house, she was buried. 

With her extraordinary life she provided a legacy to future generations, not just an art collection. Peggy Guggenheim was an icon, a woman who decided what to do with her life. A woman that with her own hands built the future she had always dreamed to have.