eccentric patrons

By October 1942, Peggy Guggenheim was ready to open in New York a new gallery, Art of This Century, surely the most eccentric pleasure dome ever decreed for the inspection of art. Lights flashed on and off, with great rushes of sound pulsing rhythmically, walls were concave, paintings swung from mid-air from strings, and the critics reeled as though on a storm-tossed ocean liner.

----Peggy had arrived back in New York to a different world than the one she had left. She had missed the great skyscraper boom, the great depression, and prohibition. She had also missed the flowering of American art, including the Ashcan school and artists like Edward Hopper, Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Peggy's influences were a group of artists whose greatest works were behind them. She had to be convinced that artists like Jackson Pollack were worth looking at. However once she saw his work, she agreed to support Pollack by paying him $100 a month and buying many of his paintings.---Read More: image:

As it happened, he appearance could not have been more perfectly timed from the standpoint of the painters who comprised America’s own avant-garde. It was as though they had rubbed the magic ring, and lo! here was the fairy godmother. For the group that was to become known as the Abstract Expressionists, Peggy Guggenheim’s outrageous gallery was a home away from home. Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, Clyfford Still and others; one by one she tendered them their first one-man shows.

With the end of the war Peggy Guggenheim removed once again to Europe, this time to her Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice. If her Uncle Solomon had been miffed by the way she had upstaged him in the field of abstract art, he gave no sign. In any event, he had a surprise of his own up his sleeve: a new museum to house his collection, and to be designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The commission held interest, in part because Wright’s views both on modern art-It is “crime without passion”- and on museums- “what is the museum but a kind of morgue?”- had some currency.

---It is as though Guggenheim feels all the economic hardships she suffered running her pioneering London and New York galleries and Venice museum-home - the development of postwar American art is inconceivable without her New York gallery Art of This Century - were in vain, all the more so because "everybody just copies the people who did interesting things twenty years ago, and so it goes on down the line, getting more and more stereotyped and more and more boring." The artists themselves have let her down, because they no longer have "a pure pioneering spirit" - the adventurous spirit she herself had, even before she discovered it in avant-garde art. It is the most memorable, enduring aspect of her. It kept her, and her faith in avant-garde art and artists, alive. The pity of her life is that while she supported artists, emotionally and financially, through the lean times, none of them returned the favor during the fat times. In the end Guggenheim felt abandoned and betrayed, which she was. She deserved a better family.---Read More: image:

Never a man to be cowed by inconsistency, Wright drew the plans fro the celebrated hollow cylinder of concrete that now crouches beside New York’s upper Fifth Avenue. Wright reported that tears stood in Solomon Guggenheim’s eyes when he first looked at the design. “Mr. Wright, this is it!” he exclaimed. “I knew you would do it.” The museum was completed in 1959.

Solomon Guggenheim, Simon Guggenheim and niece Peggy, daughter of Benjamin were all great patrons of the arts;but clearly part of an eccentric at best Jewish family. In her memoir, Peggy describes that some of her relatives enjoyed the status of “nearly normal,” though most were written off as, “peculiar, if not mad”. This cast included an “uncle [who] lived on charcoal” to another one who “spent all his time washing himself,” and several who were “inveterate gamblers”; not surprisingly, they were often at each other’s throats.

---Although she much preferred to spend her time and efforts on paintings, structures and photos, Ms. Guggenheim was extremely flamboyant, yet particularly spectacular, with her fashion as well. Her most striking wearables were the outrageous accessories she sported; to the opening of her gallery in New York City, she wore one earring by Tanguy, and another by Alexander Calder, to show appreciation for both designers. She also employed Edward Melcarth to design her famous bat-wing sunglasses, presumably to wear often in the Venetian sun. ---Read More:

“Exegi monumentum aere perennius,” sang Horace. “I have built me a monument more enduring than bronze” which evokes a sardonic note of self ridicule. For while Horace may have hoped that his lines would lilt along for centuries, he also knew he sang them thanks to the patronage of a certain rich man called Maecenas. The patron is remembered today only because he supported Horace and Virgil and a few other poets.

Today, the fact that some men named Guggenheim over a hundred years ago gouged a fortune out of the earth is almost forgotten. But it seems likely they they will, after all, also be remembered for their patronage; it will be more enduring than their copper and lead, and smelters, even than their silver and gold.

Glynis Bell stars as Peggy Guggenheim, who has a voracious appetite for art, men and the men who make art, in the Rep's Studio Theater's production of "Woman Before a Glass: A Triptyc

Four Parts." Read More:


Michele C. Cone:Peggy Guggenheim had disconcerting relationships with her friends such as writer Djuna Barnes and feminist Emma Goldman, whom she subsidised financially along with artists, relations and friends of friends. Despite her apparent largesse she was often accused of stinginess.

A charismatic, witty woman, she discovered her vocation in art while liberating herself from the conventions of her day. She was sexually voracious, outraging society with her candour and escapades. She had a penchant for artists and included Samuel Beckett, Yves Tanguy, Constantin Brancusi, Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp among her lovers. Gore Vidal described Peggy as “the last of Henry James’s transatlantic heroines, Daisy Miller with rather more balls”.

Dearborn does not overlook Guggenheim’s poor parenting skills and her difficulty in expressing love for her children. Peggy’s son grew up without any ambition and her beautiful daughter committed suicide. The artist Manina was with Pegeen when she said: “If that collection ever goes up in flames, you’ll know who did it.” Manina said, “It was a rival for her mother’s love.” Read More:


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