Peggy Guggenheim Collection: Collection of modern art #veniceclassics

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Right on the Grand Canal, in the southern part of Venice's old town, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni fits into the row of houses and has been home to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection since 1980. The modern art collection was owned by the American gallery owner Peggy Guggenheim until she died.

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© G.Lanting, PI5DAE~2 - CopyPeggy Guggenheim Museum, CC BY 3.0

Peggy Guggenheim – an eventful life

As the daughter of the American businessman Benjamin Guggenheim, she (1898-1979) was part of a billionaire family and niece of the founder of the New York Guggenheim Museum Solomon R. Guggenheim. Her father died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. So when she came of age in 1919 she received a legacy of $ 450,000 and was completely financially independent.


Entry into the art world

At the age of 23, Peggy Guggenheim moved to Paris, where she met many writers and artists who inspired her - including Djuna Barnes, Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray. A little later she met the French painter and sculptor Laurence Vail, whom she married in 1922. The marriage lasted eight years.

Peggy Guggenheim in Marseille, 1937 © archives familiales, Peggy, Marseille37, CC BY-SA 4.0

Opening of the Art Gallery

It was then that she met Samuel Beckett, who introduced her to contemporary art. Thereupon she bought works of the avant-garde by, among others, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, who also supported her with the opening of her first art gallery "Guggenheim Jeune" in 1938 in London. In the meantime, she continuously expanded her art collection and bought various works. Since many artists had to leave Paris at the beginning of the Second World War, they sold their works at particularly low prices. Peggy Guggenheim later said that she had no idea that she had acquired important art for so little money. She just paid what she was told.

Invitiation to the opening of „Art of this Century“

Return to Europe

In July 1941, since she was of Jewish descent, she fled to New York with Max Ernst, whom she married in the same year. The divorce followed in 1946. Peggy Guggenheim opened the "Art of This Century" gallery in Manhattan, which was also a museum. She returned to Europe already in 1947 and from then on lived in Venice. Only a year later, she was allowed to exhibit her art collection at the Venice Biennale and bought the unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal. She had the 18th-century-palace rebuilt and used it both as an apartment and as an exhibition space that was open to the public from 1951. At the beginning of the 1960s, however, Peggy Guggenheim gave up her collecting activities because the newly emerging art movement Pop Art did not meet her taste.

© G.Lanting, PI5DAE~2 - CopyPeggy Guggenheim Museum, CC BY 3.0

An important legacy

Peggy Guggenheim died in Venice in 1979 and was buried in the garden of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. She bequeathed her art collection and the Palazzo to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, under the condition that her collection remains in Venice.

The grave of Peggy Guggenheim and her dogs in the garden of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni

Unfinished perfection

The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was designed by the architect Lorenzo Boschetti from 1749 on behalf of the Venier family. The architecture is based on the 16th century buildings by Andrea Palladio and Baldassare Longhena, which shaped the cityscape of Venice at that time. From the Grand Canal an entrance loggia leads to the museum, while guests arriving from the alley were greeted by a four-column hall with two staircases. The oval courtyard is also surrounded by several columns. However, the construction of the palazzo was never completed, so it is significantly lower than all the surrounding ones. Initially, it was thought that only the ground floor was completed. However, newly discovered plans show that only about a third of the ground floor has been built. The reasons for the construction stop have not yet been clearly clarified. On the one hand, it is suspected that the family lacked the financial means over time, on the other hand, the powerful family Corner, who lived opposite, could have prevented the construction, since they tolerated no larger palazzo than their own. Another possible reason could have been the impairment of the neighboring Gothic palace. It was badly affected by the construction of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and demolished in the 19th century.

The addition to the name of the Palazzo "dei Leoni" goes back to the two stone lion figures on the side of the terrace facing the Grand Canal. The Venier family is said to have kept a lion on the property.

A wooden model of the palazzo is presented in the Correr Museum in Venice.


Model that should give an impression of the originally planned palace. © User:Ethan Doyle White, Preparatory model of the Palazzo Venier Dei Leoni, CC BY-SA 4.0
Entrance Museum and Sculpture
Entrance to the Museums with the sculpture "L’Angelo della Città" © Edal, PeggyGuggenheimEntrance, CC BY-SA 3.0

A museum of contemporary art

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection opened in 1980 and exhibits the art collection of Peggy Guggenheim. Visitors can see artworks by Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst and Paul Klee and others. In addition, special exhibitions are regularly shown in the palazzo. The most important work of art in the collection, however, is the equestrian statue "L’Angelo della Citta" (Angel of the City) by Marino Marrini from 1948. The sculpture stands on the terrace and can be seen from the Grand Canal. The garden of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni also houses many sculptures worth seeing, including those by Max Ernst, Hans Arp and Henry Moore. Visitors can also visit Peggy Guggenheim's grave, which is right next to the one of her beloved dogs.

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