Woman Bought World Class Art Collection for $40,000? Meet Peggy Guggenheim / Art During WWII

You might have watched the recent movie Monuments Men, which is basically about a group of American men who go to Europe during WWII to rescue important cultural artifacts from the Nazi. This video is not about that movie or the men in it, but I want to talk about a woman who played an important role during this time. Her name is Peggy Guggenheim. The name Guggenheim might sound familiar, as there is the Guggenheim museum in NY, but that museum is actually Solomon R. Guggenheim, who is Peggy’s uncle. Peggy Guggenheim was an American art collector, bohemian and socialite. She was born into a very wealthy family in New York, and inherited a great deal of money at a young age, when her industrialist father died on the Titanic. She was a very passionate woman, who is said to have three great loves: Money, Men, and Art. When asked how many husbands she had been through, she replied, “My own or other people’s?” Her inquisitive mind and sense of adventure drew her to bohemian Paris- She adored the Parisian avant-garde - artists, poets and musicians living an unconventional, creative and novel lifestyle. She ran a small art gallery and invested her fortune into the latest art from England and France. But she was searching for something bigger, she wanted to be seen and to be taken seriously. So she had an idea of starting a Museum of Modern art in London, that would rival the MOMA in New York. Of course, founding a museum is no easy task - so she enlisted the expertise of artist Marcel Duchamp and British art historian Herbert Read to draft a list of artworks. Everything that she would need to collect to form the basis of her collection. And then, Hilter started a war. Hitler, being a dictator, of course, also controlled art work being produced at the time. In fact, they took all the art they didn’t like, and put them in an exhibition called Degenerate art, that pretty much condemned modern art. Nazis stole a great deal of art to sell, some even took for their private use and collection, some were even burned. A ton were just destroyed in all the chaos. Artists themselves branded enemies of the state and a threat to German culture, many were exiled. So tons of artists were trying to leave Europe at this time. What’s so crazy is that Peggy Guggenheim didn’t just turn around and buy her first class ticket home at the first sign of war. Instead, she got her checkbook, and worked her way through the list. “Buy a picture a day” became her mantra. As many artists and dealers were on their way out, most were happy to sell to her at grossly knocked-down prices (except Picasso).  Peggy’s shopping spree ended up with a huge stash of the top art, when finished, she had acquired ten Picassos, forty Ernsts, eight Mirós, four Magrittes, three Man Rays, three Dalís, one Klee, one Wolfgang Paalen and one Chagall among others.all which costed her less than $40,000. Whether you want to say she was courageous or just taking advantage of the circumstances, she protected a great deal of important art, as well as her artist friends, and she safely brought some of the best modern European art to New York when she returned home in 1941.


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