I am very enthusiastic by this book Peggy Guggenheim The Shock of the Modern by Francine Prose published by Yale Press and Jewish Lives. The author presents a vivacious book, a stunning biography, a vivid and fresh portrait of one of the most important icons of the last century.
What a woman Peggy Guggenheim was!
I confess that I knew the Guggenheim Museum but I hadn't never read anything relevant involving the founder.
So, the phrase of Peggy Guggenheim: "I am not an art collector. I am a museum" with me was more than perfect.
The life of Peggy Guggenheim has been incredible, true, sordid sometimes, yes, but also pretty normal for the standard of a person like her according to my point of view.
In general a life of a creative is not like the typical life of a business man and doesn't follow the common trajectories that should have.
A real artist, someone with different visions won't never live a common life. It's sad because she will be "different" but in the scheme of life is perfect because in that way that creative soul won't be killed by monotony.
Not only the one of Peggy Guggenheim hasn't been at all a boring, sad, monotonous life but it was pervaded and moved by two main forces: sex of every kind with a lot of diversified partners and art.
These ones her two main additions. As the author remarks in several passages of the book she hasn't been a mother for her two children.
Peggy Guggenheim's dad died like many other people of the so-called elite during the inauguration trip of the Titanic, while he was helping other people leaving them the available place in the lifeboat. A gentleman.
Guggenheim was incredibly wealthy and same was for Peggy although some friends thought that maybe her standard was less wealthy than the one of her dad.
Why Peggy started to fall in love for art? She was born in an environment where she could breath culture. Then thanks to a bookstore and later new trips to Europe she started to fall in love for art.
Contemporary art, in particular avant-garde, that one interested her a lot.
About men and women, oh wow! If you go for something like that in this detailed, intriguing, captivating book you will find incredible love-stories, some of them with tragic epilogues but all of them lived by Peggy Guggenheim with all herself.
She loved her men and later she would have loved to remark them her richness and her being the first one, trying to keep her lovers and friends dependent financially, emotionally or erotically by her.
She could be terribly generous with some friends and ex-husband, Vail is an example, assisted for all the rest of his life in a monthly base, or pretty stingy.
If you were so lucky of being invited in one of her feasts in her palace Venier dei Leoni when she lived per decades in Venice, great! It was an honor for sure for you but you hadn't to imagine great food, champagne. There was the cheapest wine she could find and just some little food.
Peggy loved to keep all her money under control, her expenses, but in this sense I don't think that it was a Jewish treat. It's common, in artists, painters, catholic and of other religious confessions as well.
They're stingy for surviving or just for going on. In the case of Peggy Guggenheim, this lady although very rich was buying a lot of expensive art. She enjoyed social life, saving money for buying art.
Peggy Guggenheim was born for enjoying sexual pleasures, trips, art, but also for leaving to the world an immense legacy: a real museum!
One of her lovers was a young Samuel Beckett Nobel Prize later, but in general Peggy loved to experience sexual relationship with all artists she interacted with and when tired of the man of that moment she tried to find a lover for him. She did the same for Vail her first husband.
She was generous in this sense, although sometimes it meant a catastrophe. Most of her important relationship ended up with violent discussions and not just verbals.
Her children didn't exactly grow up in the most appropriate domestic atmosphere and Pegeen paid the highest price for all of it deciding one day of killing herself.
Perfection doesn't exist and if a person can be perfect in a field, in another can be "distracted."
Peggy Guggenheim was beauty?
In the cover of this book I don't see an ugly woman although Guggenheim's problem was her nose. She tried to fix the problem but she increased this fixation because plastic surgery was at the beginning. She was sad of not being beauty because most of her friends including Casati were beautiful women and it meant a lot in that social class. But after all although Peggy Guggenheim wasn't as beauty as the standard of that time required she had a lot of men and women, an adoring court, a lot of friends.
She was a lady of culture, she was a wealthy, someone who loved to take care of her friends, and someone in love for art. Artists loved her because they understood that she was serious in her intentions.
Before the arrival of the Second World War, Peggy escaped in the USA with her friends, ex husbands directed to the USA and bringing with her the art that in the while she had accumulated.
Then, after the creation of Art of this Century, the promotion of Jackson Pollock still an emerging artist, and many other ones, the idea of leaving the USA for a place in Europe where setting her museum. Forever.
Thanks to the Biennale she visited once to Venice, Peggy fell in love for that city and she ended up to create the museum in the Serenissima.
She spent in that beautiful italian city decades. Her guests and friends were Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Prince Philip and many other ones.
But, what will remain of her are not her excesses, are not her eccentricities, are not her family-problems but the words of a proprietor of a café on the edge of Campo Sant'Aponal, who synthesizes her life and legacy very well. When ms.Prose told him that she was in Venice because she was writing a book about Peggy Guggenheim that man's eyes became bright: "Oh, la Peggy!"
And he started to tell.
To tell to the writer that he was a young artist when he knew Peggy Guggenheim and that it was thanks to her if Italy discovered the Abstract Impressionism and if Venice considers Guggenheim a heroine because she completely changed the face of that city in better thanks to her museum. Close to Titians and Tintoretto people admires the beauty Peggy Guggenheim built during her tormented life. A tourbillon.
I love to imagine the owner of that café reading this book right now thanking the good inspiration that brought Peggy Guggenheim once to Venice.
I thank Yale Press and Jewish Lives for the physical copy of this book.
Anna Maria Polidori