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style icon: peggy guggenheim

by Amy Azzarito

For my second style icon post (our first style icon was Georgia O’Keeffe), I thought we’d take a look at wealthy American art collector Peggy Guggenheim (August 26, 1898–December 23, 1979). (Her uncle, Solomon R. Guggenheim, established the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation and museum.) Peggy grew up ensconced in New York City luxury, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing (literally). Her father sailed on the maiden voyage of the Titanic in 1912. When the ship hit an iceberg, he helped women and children into lifeboats, and although he was entitled to a spot as a first-class passenger, he declined a place for himself and went down with the ship. Fourteen-year-old Peggy had adored her father and was devastated by his death. After her father’s death, the family’s wealth declined dramatically due to the unpaid debts he had accrued, but when Peggy was 21, she inherited $2.5 million (the equivalent of about $32 million today).

Images above top, clockwise from left: Peggy Guggenheim photographed by Man Ray, 1924; Peggy on the roof of her Venetian Palazzo with her beloved Lhasa Apso dogs; Peggy with a Calder mobile; and again, on the roof of her Venetian Palazzo, sunbathing

Image above: 1. 25th Floor Egyptian Nugget Earring, $34; 2. Canvas Beach Chairs, $150; 3. Circle Mobile, $37.95; 4. Copper Sauce Pan, $229 (In the ’20s, Peggy’s signature dish was a chocolate mole sauce that she served with chicken. David Lebovitz has a recipe here.); 5. Peggy Guggenheim Sunglasses, $250; 6. YSL Venetian Rose Lipstick, $32; 7. Dog Bed, $179.99

More of style icon Peggy Guggenheim after the jump . . .

Images above top, clockwise from left: Peggy on the steps of the Greek Pavilion, 1948; Peggy in her personal gondola; earrings made for Peggy by Surrealist painter Yves Tanguy; Peggy on her sofa in Venice, Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollock

After receiving her inheritance, she moved to Paris, but she loved to travel and moved around quite a bit (partially due to World War II and partially due to her wanderlust) until finally settling in Venice in 1947. Peggy played a major role in supporting and advocating for modern and Surrealist artists. She gave money to New York photographer Berenice Abbott so she could buy her first camera and then commissioned Berenice to photograph her naked and pregnant. She supported the American painter Jackson Pollock, purchased paintings by Dali, Klee and Miro, purchased work by Alexander Calder and supported writers like Djuna Barnes. (She was also married to or had affairs with many of these artists, including Max Ernst and Samuel Beckett). Peggy lived in Venice until her death in 1979. Her home is now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and is one of the most important modern art museums in Italy today.

If you’d like to know more about Peggy, you can read Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim or Peggy Guggenheim: A Collector’s Album, which has great photos.

*For all her contributions to the art world, Peggy could be quite a difficult person. She reportedly told her daughter, Pegeen, “I’d rather have a Picasso than a daughter.” (Pegeen succeeded in killing herself in 1967.)


Image above: 1. Beaded Necklace, $28.99; 2. Striped Shorts, $68; 3. Summer Straw Hat, $34.50; 4. Banda Chaise, $398; 5. Planter, $24; 6. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett, $13.92; 7. Horse Pillow, $70; 8. Murano Speckled Tumbler, $28

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  • I have a picture of me sitting in the exact corner of her balcony as she is pictured in the first sepia photo. I was floored to see her amazing art collection in her home-turned-museum in Venice. What a neat lady!

  • She was definitely her own woman, but so full of life, style and a true devotion to the arts! Her home in Venice is so lovely and a def must for anyone traveling through Italy. Great picks to bring her style and eye to today’s world. I wish more people took risks (both fashion and otherwise) like Guggenheim did!

  • the house/museum in venice is amazing. its a place i often visit in my dreams. and really, i can’t get enough of peggy. she is one of my style icons – for sure. thanks for this. its just what my day needed.

  • I’ve always loved her iconic Edward Melcarth sun glasses. Thanks for sharing the reproductions I just might need to buy them! If ever in Venice you must visit her collection! It’s simply splendid.

  • This is the first I’ve heard of her and am curious to learn more of her especially what kind of relationship she had with her daughter. That was pretty harsh what she said to her. Love the new idea of sharing style icons!!!

  • I live in part of Hayford Hall on Dartmor which Peggy Guggenheim rented for two summers in the early 30’s you can read about it in ‘Hayford Hall, Hangovers, Erotics and Modernist Aesthetics.’

  • Really enjoy these posts, keep me up!

    Also, as much as I enjoy the history of Italy and its art, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was probably my favorite museum in Italy.

  • How absolutely serendipitous! Not one week ago I was in Venice touring the Peggy Guggenheim museum. I had never heard about her until the museum was highlighted on a tour map, but it was such a joy learn about her as well as her amazing collection. Thank you for this post!

  • I love peggy so much! She was so crazy and progressive and awesome. I first got interested in her in Venice at her Collection. One of my favorite art spots. Biographies of her ate so interesting. Great post!

  • I recently saw her museum – her old house in Venice. What an amazing lady! I didn’t know about her father, very sad. Just goes to show money won’t buy you happiness but at least you can do something extraordinary with it like she did with art.

  • Thanks for this post, which made me smile:-) I spent a wonderful 4 months as an intern at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – housed in Peggy’s former house on the Grand Canal in Venice – when I was just out of college… and at the time I could recite her life story by heart in two languages (necessary for giving tours of the collection!)… needless to say I’ve since forgotten most of it, but this post was a lovely reminder.

  • I am thrilled to say that I found 2 chairs (exactly like #2) on the side of the road the other day! They’re in perfect shape, just need a good scrub and some new striped covers. Yay!

  • You missed an opportunity to reveal her ultimate bedroom: lots of metallics, handmade-by-famous-artist bedframe and earring display hung on walls!
    Peggy was fierce…

  • I’ve been to her marvelous home-turned-Modern Art Museum, and it is breathtaking! I had no idea about her father on the Titanic, that is truly wonderful & tragic at the same time. And a reply to Eimear above: I am so jealous! You got to enact my dream job ♥ Heidi ♥

  • LOVE this feature! this one and the previous one on Georgia O’Keefe made me think of another female artist you should consider–Louise Nevelson. She was a striking figure; she was very tall and strong, and she wore layers of mink eyelashes, head scarves, and flowing, drapey clothes. Plus her sculptures were amazing.

  • I went to her home in Venice & it was amazing. She had an undying love for her pets & on the property was a garden where all her pets were laid to rest. Not only was her Italian home stunning, her personal touches were still in tact which really made it a wonderful visit. Highly recommend! Her biography is pretty amazing too about socialites of that time.

  • Checking out a reference in Debrett’s (as one does) I came across a marriage by Charles Aitken to Peggy Guggenheim referenced as follows:
    Charles Fleming Aitken (1891-1949) = [?] 1915 Peggy Guggenheim (nee Elgee); 1 son Peter, who dsp (disappeared) Australia.
    This is one relationship of Peggy’s I’ve never heard mentioned. Is this a possibility?

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