"Mrs. Guggenheim, how many husbands have you had?" she was once asked. "D'you mean my own, or other people's?"
Peggy Guggenheim's tempestuous life (1898-1979) spanned the most exciting and volatile years of the twentieth century, and she lived it to the full. How she became one of the century's foremost collectors of modern art-and one of its most formidable lovers-is the subject of this lively and authoritative biography.
Her father, Benjamin Guggenheim, went down with the Titanic en route home from installing the elevator machinery in the Eiffel Tower, and it was in Paris in the 1930s that the young heiress came into a small fortune and began to make her mark in the art world. Uneasily married to the alcoholic English dilettante writer Laurence Vail, she joined the American expatriate bohemian set. Though her many lovers included such lions of the worlds of art and literature as Samuel Beckett, Max Ernst (whom she later married), Yves Tanguy, and Roland Penrose, real love always seemed to elude her.
In the later 1930s, Peggy set up one of the first galleries of modern art in London, quickly acquiring a magnificent selection of works by Picasso (who snubbed her), Magritte, Miró, and Brancusi, and buying great numbers of paintings from artists fleeing to America after the Nazi invasion of France. Escaping from Vichy, she moved back to New York, where she was hugely influential in assisting the beginnings of the new American abstract expressionist movement (in particular, Jackson Pollock).
Meticulously researched, filled with colorful incident, and boasting a distinguished cast, Anton Gill's biography reveals the inner drives of a remarkable woman and indefatigable patron of the arts.
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Anton Gill worked for the English Stage Company, the Arts Council of Great Britain, and the BBC before becoming a full-time writer in 1984. He has written more than twenty books, mainly in the field of contemporary history, including The Journey Back from Hell: Conversations with Concentration Camp Survivors (winner of the H. H. Wingate Award), A Dance Between Flames: Berlin Between the Wars, and An Honourable Defeat: A History of the German Resistance to Hitler.From Booklist:
Guggenheim, a classic "poor little rich girl," was known as much for her sexual exploits as for her championing of modern art, a fact Gill, the author of numerous works, including An Honorable Defeat: The German Resistance to Hitler (1994), examines with candor, sensitivity, and mellifluous grace. After her father died aboard the Titanic when she was 14, Guggenheim evolved into a lonely, rebellious young woman painfully self-conscious about her less than perfect appearance and therefore burdened with low self-esteem. She preferred Europe to America, loved to read but never attended college, sought validation in men who didn't love her but who were eager to spend her money, and insisted on a woman's right to shape her own destiny. Gill patiently records every battle in her two violently contentious marriages (one to artist Max Ernst), her compulsive promiscuity, miserable failure at motherhood, and peripatetic lifestyle, then, with a sigh of relief, concentrates on her vision and generosity in supporting avant-garde writers and artists and her influential role as gallery owner and pioneering modern art collector. In spite of much chaos and unhappiness, Guggenheim--flamboyant and audacious, a magnet for gossip and a champion of artistic freedom--did move culture forward in the face of fascism, virulent anti-Semitism, and pervasive sexism. Donna Seaman
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