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), Pablo 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, Mirò and Chagall. Major modernists also contributed custom interior decor, including the Alexander Calder silver bedstead hanging in the former bedroom. In some of the rooms, 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 in the aftermath of WWII. She 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, Giacomo Balla 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, is visibly excited by the possibilities on the horizon.
The sculpture garden – Peggy's final resting place – features works by greats like Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti and Anish Kapoor. The museum has also acquired the buildings behind the garden, which house a sunny cafe, a bookshop, bathrooms and a temporary exhibition space. Around the corner from the museum on Fondamenta Venier dei Leoni is a larger museum shop, selling art books in several languages and gifts inspired by various artworks.