ART IN VENICE: Part 1, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

ART IN VENICE: Part 1, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection

ART IN VENICE: Part 1, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Venice, Italy. In the courtyard of the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

Note: Our visit to Venice was in September 2019, before the devastating high tides that inundated many of the historic sites of the city. Although the Peggy Guggenheim museum was closed temporarily, the director posted the following statement on Instagram: “Fortunately, the museum staff is well and safe, the museum and collections are safe and have not been damaged.” The following report is an overview of our visit before the floods.

Venice is an art lover’s paradise. Art is everywhere you look, from the magnificent mosaics on the walls of St. Mark’s Basilica to the interiors of churches and museums, to the galleries lining the streets along the canals.

“White Cross” by Vasily Kandinsky, 1922

On our recent visit to Venice, we visited two of Venice’s most outstanding art museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, with its fabulous examples of 20th century paintings and sculpture, and the Accademia Gallery, with room after room of Venetian masterpieces and more.

Entrance to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection from the Grand Canal

The paintings and sculptures in the Peggy Guggenheim museum, housed in a palace on the banks of the Grand Canal, brought back memories of my modern art courses in college–from the cubist paintings of Picasso and Braque to the surrealist art of Dali, Magritte and Miro, to the abstract expressionist art of the 1950s.

Ticket stub with map of museum.

Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon Guggenheim (whose collection is in the the famous Frank Lloyd Wright designed museum in New York), began collecting art in 1938 and in 1942 opened a gallery in New York. In 1949 she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice and began filling it with art. She opened
it to the public in 1951.

View across the Grand Canal from the Peggy Guggenheim Museum

A temporary exhibit in the museum shows Peggy
Guggenheim when she was actually living in the house. Last year was the
70th anniversary. After Peggy Guggenheim’s death in 1979 her house and
collection of art became part of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, established by her uncle.
Here are just a few of my favorite pieces of art in the museum.

Man Ray, “Silhouette” 1916
Joan Miro “Dutch Interior” 1928

Corneille, “The Great Solar Symphony” 1964
The chair in the corner is a piece of art–not for sitting.

I especially liked that the pictures were hung with plenty of “breathing space” so each could be enjoyed without competing with a neighbor.

Alexander Calder “Silver Bed Head” 1945-46, detail

Several pieces by sculptor Alexander Calder were on display, both mobiles and some of his smaller pieces, like “Silver Bed Head” in which the wires and their shadows function like a playful lined drawing.

This large painting by Jackson Pollack, framed in the museum doorways, can be seen three rooms away.

Jackson Pollack, “Alchemy” 1947. A close-up view reveals the complexity of colors and textures.

Peggy Guggenheim was an enthusiastic supporter of Jackson Pollack and has eleven of his paintings in her collection, including several of his “drip” paintings. She supported him financially and in November 1943 gave him his first one-man show at her gallery in New York.

Grace Hartigan, “Ireland”, 1959

The only painting by a woman in the Peggy Guggenheim collection is Grace Hartigan’s “Ireland.” As a woman artist in a male-dominated era, she got less recognition than abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollack and Robert Motherwell, but she is one of the few female painters to receive a level of comparable exposure. In 1957, Life magazine caller her “the most celebrated of the young American women painters.”

Marino Marini, “The Angel of the City” 1948, bronze sculpture of a boy on a horse, greets visitors on the patio of the museum.

Peggy Guggenheim lived in Venice for thirty-three years. She died at age 81 in December 1979. Her ashes are placed in a corner of the garden of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, next to the place where she customarily buried her beloved dogs.

After visiting the Peggy Guggenheim collection and browsing the gift shop, we had a nice lunch in the adjacent garden cafe. A wide variety of art galleries line the streets of Venice, especially in the area between the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Gallery Accademia. Here are a couple of gallery exhibits that struck my fancy as we walked by:

This portrait of Marilyn Monroe was created with tiny images of butterfly wings.
“Dog” by Fernando Bottero, 2008
These whimsical cats reflect the theatrical personality of Venice

I like to take pictures in museums and galleries to remind me of what I saw and so I can enjoy seeing the art again. My visit to the Accademia Gallery will be in Part 2 of my report on Venice art.

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