I certainly wasn't looking for twentieth century art when visiting Venice in June 1980. But wandering the backstreets I stumbled across a house that seemed to double as an art gallery. The name Guggenheim rang bells but Peggy had not been on my philistine radar. We went in not knowing what to expect. The place was deserted much like the rest of Venice in early June in the good old days. It was a delight beyond imagining. Picasso, Pollock, Miro and Marcel Duchamp were just a few amongst a feast of modern artists in her Collection.
It was still very much a home as well as a personal museum. Peggy had died only six months earlier. My strongest recollection over the years has been of the courtyard garden where the ashes of many of her dogs were buried. She has since joined them in the wall. It was a secluded spot then.
On a return visit in October 2015, being the first there was not enough to avoid the crushing crowds that packed the place by mid-morning. A gate now leads from the garden to the temporary exhibition rooms and a restaurant. The house has been extended by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Foundation to display more recent artists' work.
Lisa Immordino Vreeland's documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict helps to give some idea about whether Peggy would have approved of the changes. The film covers her very full life of 81 years in considerable depth. 95 minutes is not enough to mention all her lovers, not even the famous artists but Peggy wrote detailed accounts for those interested (now in a single edition): Out of This Century: Confessions of an Art Addict. Must get a copy, if only for the Gore Vidal foreward.
Peggy is not spared the criticisms of some of her contemporaries. Some of the more biting comments on her personality and her artistic endeavours probably tell us more about art connoisseurs and critics. Two of her regular guests in Venice confirm that the catering at her palazzo left much to be desired.
The discovery of interviews taped by her authorised biographer, Jacqueline Bogard Weld, gives the documentary a personal, winning touch. Peggy claimed that she was never "afraid". Her art collecting campaign in Paris at the outbreak of the second world war attest to her courage, drive and determination.
Her rich and famous family had an exceptional number of tragic deaths but she reveals very little in the interviews. Director Vreeland commented in an interview about her film, "she wasn't someone who was especially expressive; she didn't have a lot of emotion". Nevertheless, her sharp sense of humour is evident throughout.
What is revealed about Peggy explains how she left such a spectacular legacy: "It was really ballsy of her to have been so open about her sexuality; this was not something people did back then. So many people are bound by conventional rules but Peggy said no. She grabbed hold of life and she lived it on her own terms." This was especially true about the art and the artists she collected and promoted. "Peggy's life did not seem that dreamy until she attached herself to these artists. It was her ability to redefine herself in the end that truly summed her up".
A life definitely worth sharing.