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© Matteo de Fina/Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
© Matteo de Fina/Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Why This Is the Most Fascinating Building in Venice

Picture of Rachel Gould
Art & Design Editor
Updated: 28 July 2017

Situated in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice stands an arresting 18th-century palace that holds one of the world’s most astounding collections of modern art.

Housing the personal collection of famed American socialite Peggy Guggenheim, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of the most important museums for modern American and European art in Italy. But it’s not only a must-see for art aficionados—this spectacular building hosts stunning views of the Grand Canal, and possesses a fascinating history.

© Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. Matteo de Fina © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. Matteo de Fina

© Matteo de Fina/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

A key member of the esteemed Guggenheim family, Peggy Guggenheim was far more than mining tycoon Solomon R. Guggenheim’s niece—she was one of the most captivating figures of the 20th century. The American-born Jewish heiress escaped Paris just days before the city was invaded by the Nazis, and migrated to Venice in 1948. She purchased the 18th-century Venetian palace in 1949, and turned the stone building, designed by Italian architect Lorenzo Boschetti, into a cultural haven.

Peggy Guggenheim in the entrance hall of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni near a Yoka Mask (Nimba) from her collection of African artifacts, Venice, 1960s. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Photo Archivio CameraphotoEpoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005 Left to right, Antoine Pevsner, Developable Surface (1941, PGC), Alexander Calder, Arc of Petals (1941, PGC), Georges Braque, The Bowl of Grapes (1926, PGC).

Peggy Guggenheim in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, 1960s | © Archivio CameraphotoEpoche/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

The former wife of Dadaist and Surrealist Max Ernst, Peggy Guggenheim developed a keen eye for talent, and accrued an impressive collection of artworks by established names such as Wassily Kandinsky, Mark Rothko, Piet Mondrian, Man Ray, and Alexander Calder, alongside the work of lesser-known folk artists.

Peggy Guggenheim at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni with Alexander Calder, Arc of Petals (1941, PGC), Venice, early 1950s. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Photo Archivio CameraphotoEpoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005 Behind her Jean Arp, Overturned Blue Shoe with Two Heels Under a Black Vault (1925, PGC).

Peggy Guggenheim at Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, early 1950s | © Archivio CameraphotoEpoche/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

2008 Peggy Guggenheim Collection Venice Sala Calder. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466


Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2008 | © AndreaSarti/CAST1466/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

Guggenheim displayed her growing collection in the palazzo and across its sprawling gardens, which remained her home for three decades. In 1951 she opened her collection for public viewing, and three years before her death in 1979, she donated her legacy to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. In 1979, the palazzo was converted into the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which has since become one of the most visited—and treasured—sites in Venice.

Giuseppe Marchiori, Giovanni Comisso, Peggy Guggenheim, Emilio Vedova and Giuseppe Santomaso on the staircase of the Venice City Hall, on the day Peggy was named Honorary Citizen of Venice; February 5, 1962. Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Photo Archivio CameraphotoEpoche. Gift, Cassa di Risparmio di Venezia, 2005

Peggy Guggenheim on the staircase of the Venice City Hall, the day she was named Honorary Citizen of Venice; February 5, 1962 | © Archivio CameraphotoEpoche/Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation

Interior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 2014. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. David Heald © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. David Heald

Interior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 2014 | © David Heald/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

After Peggy’s death, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation restored the palace and expanded the museum’s gallery space. The garden, now the Patsy R. and Raymond D. Nasher Sculpture Garden, was pristinely manicured, and the museum opened a café and shop for visitors.

Exterior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 1990. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. David Heald © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. David Heald

Exterior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 1990 | © David Heald/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

Exterior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 1990. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. David Heald © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. David Heald

Exterior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy, 1990 | © David Heald/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

In 1930, architects William Adams Delano and Chester Holmes Aldrich built the U.S. Pavilion for the Venice Biennale, which was subsequently purchased by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1986. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection has since played a key role in the prestigious biennial art event. In May 2017, the Venice Biennale will inaugurate its 57th edition. To follow Culture Trip’s on-site coverage of this year’s show titled Viva Arte Viva, click here.

Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia - Spazi Museali Interni. 2008 Peggy Guggenheim Collection VeniceGiardino Levi. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
 © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2010  | © AndreaSarti/CAST1466/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

HAPPY SPRITZ GUGGENHEIMCollezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia - Spazi Museali Interni. 2008 Peggy Guggenheim Collection VeniceGiardino Levi. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
 © Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2008 | © AndreaSarti/CAST1466/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

2008 Peggy Guggenheim Collection VeniceGiardino Levi. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466


Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2008 | © AndreaSarti/CAST1466/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia

COLLEZIONE PEGGY GUGGENHEIM, VENEZIA - SPAZI MUSEALI INTERNI. 2008 Peggy Guggenheim Collection VeniceGiardino Levi. © Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466
© Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice. Ph. AndreaSarti/CAST1466


Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 2008 | © AndreaSarti/CAST1466/Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia