Peggy Guggenheim, the Film of an Art addict

Peggy Guggenheim in Venice on the terrace of her Palazzo on the Grand Canal

It was produced in 2015 in the US and never shown in a movie theatre until Germany in 2016 and Italy at the beginning of the year, and now France has distributed this amazing biographical documentary of Peggy (Marguerite) Guggentheim, the ultimate collector but also a great galerist and a compulsive lover.

Peggy Guggenheim in front of her Calder bed head

What comes out mostly of the remarkable film directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, is the true genius for discovering and developing artists, that inhabited Peggy Guggenheim. The daughter of Ben Guggenheim who died on the Titanic when she was 13 (his mistress survived), she was always a revolutionary in her own family. Her mother spent much of her father’s money and she considered herself a poor Guggenheim, compared to her uncle Solomon who founded the Guggenheim museum on Fifth avenue. « A parking for artworks as she called it » !

At 23 in Paris, she met every artist who counted

Peggy Guggenheim was self taught, never went to college and travelled to Paris in 1921 instead. Her mother, born Florence Seligman, was an original who always wore three of a kind. Three coats, three watches… They did not get on, so with her trust money she decided to live in Paris where the art world was buzzing with Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Montparnasse. She met all the artsits and befriended Samuel Beckett and mostly Marcel Duchamp whom she says, « taught her everything she knows about art ».

The film is based on many contributions by art historians and curators but mostly on a series of interviews made by her biographer, Jacqueline B. Weld, at the end of her life. Her voice is not only moving, but full of energy and very funny. She mentions many of her lovers, sometimes saying « we only slept together once » like with Paul Bowles or « he never loved me » about her last husband Max Ernst who was still in love with Leonora Carrington when they left for New York during the Second World War.

She was very stingy (food was apparently disgusting and rare at her house), but very generous for many artists whom she supported like Jackson Pollock whom she bought a house in Long Island and she gave him a monthly stipend. She considers him as the greatest discovery she has ever made. Art was everything for her and her collection mattered more than herself!

After Paris, she moved to London and opened a gallery in 1938 on Cork Street called « Guggenheim Jeune » (probably after Bernheim Jeune, theParis gallery). There she exhibited all the French avant garde. She had two children by then with painter Laurence Vail whom she divorced after seven years. In 1939, she returns to Paris and buys enormous amounts of paintings from hungry painters (140 in total), and finds a way to get them out of the country before the Germans take over. They will preceed her in New York when she flees, having financed many trips for artists living in the South of France.

Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the director

When she lands in New York, she opens her own gallery on 57 th street and shows the best of European art as well as new American painters.  She will leave New York after the war to live in Venice where her Palazzo hosts her amazing collection. If you have never been, make a point to visit it, it is a jewel of contemporary art now managed by the Solomon Guggenheim museum.There is a small room devoted to her daughter Pegee Vail’s paintings.

The film is incredibly cleverly edited, with good music and fantastic images. There is never a dull moment and Lisa Vreeland, who had already directed a film on her husband’s grandmother Diana Vreeland, impresses us again with her talent. It is showing in five movie theatres in Paris from the Latin quarter to the Champs Elysées, so make sure you don’t miss it ! (you can also order the DVD on line)

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6 Comments on “Peggy Guggenheim, the Film of an Art addict”

  1. MARCHESSEAU DANIEL

    Une merveille ce film en effet, comme tu l’écris si bien, ma chère Laure.
    Un de tes nombreux lecteurs addicts !

  2. Guillermo de Osma

    Chère Laure , comme toujours ” most inspiring ” , amusant et intéressant .
    La Fondation est magnifique , dans il palazzo Non finito, qui avait été habité avant par une autre femme extraordinaire , l’extravagante Marchesa Casati…..
    Un abrazo

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