Peggy Guggenheim Museum Venice
History, Collection Highlights, Exhibitions.


Guggenheim Museum Venice

Located in one of the centres associated with Renaissance art in Italy, the Guggenheim Museum Venice - one of the best art museums in Italy - was the brainchild of Peggy Guggenheim, the niece of Solomon Guggenheim and one of the most influential patrons of 20th century art. Starting in Paris and London during the late 1930s, and continuing in New York during World War II, she amassed an unparalleled collection of modern art, providing critical support to numerous avant-garde artists, like Jackson Pollock (1912-56), through her gallery Art of this Century. After the war she returned to Europe and established herself and her collection in Venice until her death in 1979. The Guggenheim Museum Venice was founded in the same year in her Grand Canal palazzo, and her personal collection formed the basis for its foundation.

Musee d'Orsay Paris
Pompidou Centre
Guggenheim Bilbao
Saatchi Gallery
Tate Collection, London
Reina Sofia Madrid
Pinakothek, Munich
Guggenheim, Berlin

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Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
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Whitney Museum of American Art

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Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim, one of seven brothers — including Solomon R. Guggenheim — who, during the late-19th century under the direction of their father, Meyer Guggenheim, built a family fortune out of mining and industrial smelting. Moving to Europe in the 1920s, she married the Dada artist and writer Laurence Vail, and encountered many of the leading figures of modern art in Paris and London, including the conceptualist Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).

She began her career as a patron of the arts in 1937, and the following year opened her own art gallery - Guggenheim Jeune - in London, where she staged the first exhibition of work by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).

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In 1939, she decided to open a museum dedicated exclusively to avant-garde art. Advised by the art historian Herbert Read, and Duchamp, as well as Nelly van Doesberg, the widow of abstract painter Theo van Doesberg (1883-1931), she formulated a list of the modern art movements to be represented. They included Cubism and Surrealism, as well as abstract art, showing a distinctly wider focus than that of her uncle Solomon and his chief curator Hilla Rebay, who concentrated solely on non-objective abstraction.

Meantime, she continued collecting, purchasing masterpieces by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Francis Picabia (1879-1953), Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Salvador Dali (1904-89). She staggered Fernand Leger (1881-1955) by buying his Men in the City on the same day that Hitler invaded Norway. She also bought Bird in Space by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) as the Germans were approaching Paris in May 1940, and only afterwards left for New York.


The following year, as well as marrying the German Dada and Surrealist artist Max Ernst (1891-1976), Peggy Guggenheim launched her museum of modern art in New York. Designed by the Romanian-Austrian architect Frederick Kiesler, Art of This Century consisted of a number of innovative exhibition spaces and rapidly became known as the most avant-garde venue for contemporary art in the City. It was here that she presented her collection of Cubist, Surrealist and other examples of non-objective art, as well as a series of exhibitions showcasing the talents of the emerging New York. The latter included both established artists from Europe along with a number of unknown young Americans like Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, William Baziotes, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko.

Her support for Pollock was particularly valuable. She gave him his first show in 1943, provided him with a monthly income and sold a number of his works. Plus, she bought a number of Jackson Pollock's paintings for her own private collection. In her espousal of Pollock's style of "action-painting" and Rothko's and Still's Colour Field painting, Guggenheim played mid-wife to the new American movement of Abstract Expressionism.

See also our article on fine art: How To Appreciate Paintings.

In 1947 she returned to Europe to exhibit her collection at the 1948 Venice Biennale. It was the first showing on the Continent of the work of American artists such as Arshile Gorky (born Vosdanig Manoog Adoian) (1905-48), Pollock and Rothko. A year later, she bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, by the Grand Canal in Venice, where she established herself and her collection (open to the public from 1951) for the rest of her life.

In 1969 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum invited her to display her collection in New York. The show's success as well as the close relationship fostered by the Foundation between itself and Peggy, led to the latter's decision to bequeath her Venetian mansion and artworks to the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, on condition that the collection remain in Venice. The donation perfectly complemented the main Guggenheim collection by plugging important gaps, not least with her masterpieces of Surrealism and large-scale canvases by Jackson Pollock. The museum was opened in 1980.

Permanent Collection

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum is the most significant Italian showcase of European and American art of the first half of the 20th century. Housed in Peggy Guggenheim's former home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, its collection consists of Peggy's personal holdings, augmented by masterpieces from the Nasher Sculpture Garden and the Gianni Mattioli Collection.

Peggy's personal collection of paintings and sculpture features major exemplars from nearly all the major movements of modern art, including Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, Neo-Plasticism, Conceptual art, and American Abstract Expressionism. It holds important works by the Surrealist artists Max Ernst, Rene Magritte (1898-1967), Joan Miró (1893-1983), and Yves Tanguy (1900-55), a large series of works by Jackson Pollock, and paintings by many of the most famous painters of the modernist era, like the Dutch gesturalist Karel Appel (1921-2006).


These include: The Poet, and On the Beach, by Picasso (1881-1973); The Clarinet by Georges Braque; Sad Young Man on a Train by Marcel Duchamp; Maiastra by Fernand Léger; Bird in Space by Constantin Brancusi; Very Rare Picture on Earth by Francis Picabia (1879-1953); The Red Tower, and The Nostalgia of the Poet, by Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978); Composition No. 1 with Grey and Red (1938), and Compositon with Red (1939) by Piet Mondrian; Landscape with Red Spots by Vasili Kandinsky; Seated Woman II by Joan Miró; Woman with Her Throat Cut, and Woman Walking, by Giacometti (1901-66), Magic Garden by Paul Klee (1879-1940); The Kiss and Attirement of the Bride by Max Ernst, Empire of Light by Renee Magritte; Birth of Liquid Desires by Salvador Dali; The Moon Woman, and Alchemy by Jackson Pollock.

Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Sculpture Garden

This Sculpture Garden presents 3-D works both from the permanent collection (for example by Jean Arp, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Max Ernst, Barry Flanagan, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Goldsworthy, Jenny Holzer, Marino Marini, and Henry Moore), as well as works on loan from foundations and private collections.

Gianni Mattioli Collection

The museum also displays twenty six masterpieces on long-term loan from the Gianni Mattioli Collection of modern art, including a rare portrait by Amedeo Modigliani.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is owned and run by the Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, which also owns the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

The Guggenheim Museum Venice
704 Dorsoduro
I-30123 Venezia
Telephone: +39.041.2405411

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