Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism by Mary V Dearborn - review by Diana Athill

Diana Athill

Art For Heart’s Sake

Peggy Guggenheim: Mistress of Modernism


Virago 338pp £20

Peggy Guggenheim, born in 1896, had a complex heritage and left a muddled reputation. Her forebears on both sides, Jewish immigrants to the USA, were astonishing people who rapidly built vast fortunes out of nothing, and on the Seligman side (her mother's) were sometimes eccentric to the point of lunacy. They created for themselves a super-luxurious ghetto in New York, a half arrogant, half defensive response to Gentile attitudes, opulent, exclusive and cosy for most of them, but potentially claustrophobic. Peggy's father, who went down with the Titanic when she was thirteen, was one of the more fidgety members of ‘our crowd’, as they called themselves. Peggy herself, given a shove by an intelligent tutor, bolted.

As for her reputation, no one could deny that she launched two very influential galleries devoted to modern art, Guggenheim Jeune in London (January 1938 – June 39) and Art of This Century in New York (October 1942 – May 47), or that she became a legend in Venice, where

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