Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim

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Portrait of Peggy Guggenheim.

© ADAGP, Photo RMN-Grand Palais - G. Blot

Publication date: April 2007

Historical context

Enthusiastic art lover, enlightened collector, patron, Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) is closely involved in the artistic creation of the XXe century. Granddaughter of two European Jews who emigrated to the United States in the 19th centurye century - the German Seligman, roofer enriched in the bank, and the Swiss Guggenheim, hawker who became the owner of copper mines - she inherited a colossal fortune of $ 450,000 on the death of her father, who died in April 1912 in the sinking of Titanic. She used most of her fortune to build a collection of works of art that represents all the avant-garde movements that have followed one another since the beginning of the 20th century.e century: cubism, futurism, constructivism, dada, surrealism, expressionism ...

In 1941, the war forced her to flee Europe. This site is today, along with the François Pinault Foundation at Palazzo Grassi, one of the great museums of modern art in the city of the Doges.

This shrewd patron never resold the works that his immense fortune had enabled him to acquire, preferring to donate them to cultural institutions. The Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice undoubtedly constitutes, for what was affectionately known as the "last Dogaress", the apotheosis of her tireless activity in the service of contemporary art.

Image Analysis

Sometimes nicknamed the "angel of bad taste" for his provocative paintings, Alfred Courmes (1898-1993) was born in the Var, in Bormes-les-Mimosas, on May 21, 1898. In 1919, he met the painter Roger de La Fresnaye (1885-1925) who introduced him to cubism, a way which undoubtedly influenced the young artist in his first period (1919-1925). He then developed a passion for the daring, always humorous, sometimes obscene, diversion of great religious or mythological subjects. Thus, in 1935, his Saint Sebastian wears a sailor's costume and exhibits his anatomy and sock clips. In 1937, he flanked the Virgin Mary with baby Cadum, who triumphed in the advertising of the time. He used the same process in 1968 in the Pneumatic angelic greeting : a Holy Virgin with the paces of a midinette is associated with the Michelin Bibendum who runs with a lily in her hand. Alfred Courmes’s antipoetry thus denounces the factitiousness of a whole part of the art of his century.

On the other hand, his portraits are free from any provocative irony. During the summer of 1926, he was an assiduous guest at the Villa de Pramousquier and painted the portrait of Peggy Guggenheim in Paris. The work marks an important turning point in the evolution of this artist, admirer of the Flemish and Italian masters, strongly influenced by the cubist technique, but tempted by a return to the figurative. The young woman occupies three quarters of the painting against a sky background. In the background, on the left, the painter has depicted the model's car and its Provencal property which overlooks the sea. The tall trees which, in the distance, frame the subject are reminiscent of those of The Virgin of the Goldfinch, Raphael, orApollo and Marsyas, from Perugino. The rigor of the composition, the association of colors and the geometry of forms and volumes testify to the permanence of the Cubist influence in the work of Alfred Courmes.


In the second half of the XIXe century, France is the privileged destination of many American artists who come to perfect their training. Paris was then the artistic capital of the European continent: its academies, schools, workshops, attracted painters and sculptors from the New World. Likewise, in the field of science and technology, American scientists and researchers come to study in Europe and then found universities, institutes, and medical and industrial research centers at home. The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research is thus directly inspired by the Institut Pasteur in Paris and the Koch Institute in Berlin.

With World War I and the United States intervening alongside the Allies, this tide tends to be reversed. Europe, bloodless, needs American capital to engage in a work of colossal reconstruction. American patrons then fully play their role. John Davidson Rockefeller (1839-1937) is thus the main promoter of the reconstruction of Reims Cathedral. Wealthy art lovers financially support European artistic creation. Katherine Sophie Dreier (1877-1952) was interested in the Dadaist movement, collected the works of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and, in 1920, founded with him and with Man Ray (1890-1976) the first American museum dedicated to the 'contemporary art. In her luxurious neo-Gothic villa in Juan-les-Pins, Florence Gould (1895-1983) holds a salon every Thursday, welcomes and helps many writers and artists. Peggy Guggenheim is part of this trend and promotes the meeting of young American artists with European painters such as Max Ernst (1891-1976), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) or Fernand Léger (1881-1955), refugees in New York during the Second World War, making her gallery a fruitful place of exchange for all these artists who, without her, might not have known such rapid fame.

  • portrait
  • United States
  • sea
  • dadaism
  • avant-garde
  • Ernst (Max)
  • women
  • Venice


Alfred H. BARR Jr., Herbert READ and Willem SANDBERG, The Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Turin, Pozzo Gros Monti, 1977 Jean-Marc CAMPAIGN, Alfred Courmes, prospector of mirage between heaven and flesh, Paris, Éric Losfeld Editor, 1973. Anne-Martin FUGIER, The Artist's Life in the 19th Century, Paris, Ed. Louis Audibert 2007 Annette and Luc VEZIN, Muses in the shadow of the creators, Paris, Editions de La Martinière, 2002.20th-century art, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Paris, R.M.N., 1976.

To cite this article

Alain GALOIN, "Peggy Guggenheim"

Video: Explore Venices Peggy Guggenheim Collection with guide, Grazina. GetYourGuide


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