Her name is famous in the art world, not as an artist, but as a lover of art and a noted collector and patron. It was Peggy Guggenheim who gave the unknown painter Jackson Pollock his first show. She was equally pivotal in the careers of greats like Mark Rothko and Max Ernst. Because she couldn't afford works by the old masters, Guggenheim wisely concentrated on what she called "the art of one's time." Pieces in her collection dating from the first half of the 20th century embrace Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. Little wonder that the Peggy Guggenheim collection is today world-renowned.

How that collection came about, and Peggy's metamorphosis from privileged Jazz Age baby to a doyenne of modern art, is recounted by historian Anton Gill in vivid detail in Art Lover. Peggy's father, Benjamin, was the son of Meyer Guggenheim, whose family amassed its fortune during the industrial revolution. Peggy herself was just 13 when Benjamin died on the Titanic. He had not managed his money well. Though his widow and children would never want, neither would they live the lifestyle associated with the Guggenheim name.

Peggy was an unpaid clerk in an avant-garde bookstore when she first became enamored of those from the bohemian world of arts and letters. Especially the men. Though she was no beauty (her nose was a ringer for the snout on W.C. Fields), Peggy nonetheless managed to captivate. Doubtless, her allure had much to do with her sexual appetite. She would marry twice (once to Ernst) and take innumerable lovers. She would also have a lifelong love affair with Europe, including post-war Paris, where she hobnobbed with the Lost Generation's artists and literati, and London, where she opened her first gallery. Later, Venice would become home and the site of her museum. A highlight of the Grand Canal, the gallery is her most enduring legacy.

Exhaustively researched and written with a special feel for the decades that so defined Peggy Guggenheim's artistic journey, Art Lover tells all with a mix of scholarship and Žlan. And, like Peggy herself, the book never fails to fascinate. Pat Broeske writes from Santa Ana, California.

 

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