I was recently in Venice, taking in the glorious sights, including one of my favourite art galleries in the world, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Peggy was a highly influential and acquisitive patron of 20th century art, often buying items that didn’t sell, and works for which there was, as yet, no market, just because she loved them. Her collection, housed in a palazzo on the Canale Grande is bursting at the seams with the cubist, surrealist and abstract works of Picasso, Ernst, Kandinsky, Magritte and many more. She actually gave Jackson Pollock his first show. Peggy used to say that it was her duty to “protect the art of her own time.” In her way, she was helping to give birth to modern art culture.
Peggy was different to the patrons of renaissance Italy, like the Medici family of Florence, who essentially ordered works of art or architecture to order from the top artists of the day. They would enter into a contract with an artist that specified how much he would be paid, what kinds of materials would be used, how long it would take to complete, and what the subject of the work would be. These commissions promoted not simply the ruler but the prestige of the city. Patronage was a tool of rulership and diplomacy. Peggy, by contrast, patronised the artists that she loved, and was open to being educated about their work, confessing that at the start “my knowledge of art ended at impressionism.” Continue reading