After losing her father on the Titanic, heiress Peggy Guggenheim became one of the great collectors of the 20th century. Her palatial canalside home, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, showcases her stockpile of surrealist, futurist and abstract expressionist art with works by up to 200 artists, including her ex-husband Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock (among her many rumoured lovers), Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
Peggy sourced artwork according to her own convictions rather than for prestige or style, so her collection includes inspired folk art and lesser-known artists alongside Kandinsky, Man Ray, Rothko, Mondrian and Joseph Cornell. 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.
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 taste-maker, 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. She also 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.
The sculpture garden – Peggy's final resting place – features works by greats like Moore, Giacometti, Brancusci and Kapoor. Through the gardens is a pavilion housing a cafe, 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 replicas of Peggy’s signature glasses – winged, like the lion of San Marco.