Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Lonely Planet review

After tragically losing her father on the Titanic , heiress Peggy Guggenheim befriended Dadaists, dodged Nazis and changed art history at her palatial home on the Grand Canal. Peggy's Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is a showcase for surrealism, futurism and abstract expressionism by some 200 breakthrough modern artists, including Peggy’s ex-husband Max Ernst and Jackson Pollock (among her many rumoured lovers).

Collection

Peggy collected according to her own convictions rather than for prestige or style, so her collection includes inspired folk art and lesser-known artists alongside Kandinsky, Picasso, Man Ray, Rothko, Mondrian, Joseph Cornell and Dalí. Major modernists also contributed custom interior decor, including the Calder silver bedstead hanging in the former bedroom. In the corners of the main galleries, you’ll find photos of the rooms as they appeared when Peggy lived here, in fabulously eccentric style.

For this champion of modern art who’d witnessed the dangers of censorship and party-line dictates, serious artwork deserved to be seen and judged on its merits. The Jewish American collector narrowly escaped Paris two days before the Nazis marched into the city, and arrived in Venice in 1948 to find the city’s historically buoyant spirits broken by war. More than a mere tastemaker, Peggy became a spirited advocate for contemporary Italian art, which had largely gone out of favour with the rise of Mussolini and the partisan politics of WWII.

Peggy sparked renewed interest in postwar Italian art and resurrected the reputation of key Italian Futurists, whose dynamic style had been co-opted to make Fascism more visually palatable. Her support led to reappraisals of Umberto Boccioni, Giorgio Morandi, Giacomo Balla, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Giorgio de Chirico, and aided Venice’s own Emilio Vedova and Giuseppe Santomaso. Never afraid to make a splash, Peggy gave passing gondoliers an eyeful on her Grand Canal quay: Marino Marini’s 1948 Angel of the City , a bronze male nude on horseback visibly excited by the possibilities on the horizon.

Garden & Pavilion

The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was never finished, but that didn’t stop Peggy Guggenheim from filling every available space indoors and out with art. Wander past bronzes by Moore, Giacometti and Brancusci, Yoko Ono’s Wish Tree and a shiny black-granite lump by Anish Kapoor in the sculpture garden , where the city of Venice granted Peggy an honorary dispensation to be buried beneath the Giacometti sculptures and alongside her dearly departed lapdogs in 1979. Through the gardens is a pavilion housing a sunny cafe, a bookshop, bathrooms, and temporary exhibits highlighting underappreciated modernist rebels. Around the corner from the museum on Fondamenta Venier dei Leoni is a larger museum shop , selling art books in several languages and replicas of Peggy’s signature glasses – winged, like the lion of San Marco.