Pegeen Guggenheim…No, Not Peggy

Day 298 of Colourisation Project – March 1

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

With a surname like Guggenheim it stands to reason that you are going to be involved in the art world in some shape or form.

Born Jezebel Margaret Vail, in 1925 in Switzerland, Pegeen Vail Guggenheim as she was better known was the daughter of Peggy Guggenheim, one of art history’s most important art collectors, and arguably one of the most powerful and influential people in the art world…pretty big shoes to fill. Her father was, American artist and international bon viveur, Lawrence Vail.

Pegeen Guggenheim

Photographer: Benjamin Hélion – Pegeen Guggenheim – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Immersed in the milieu of her mother’s artistic world she mixed with and was inspired by, some of the greatest intellectuals and artists of the 20th century, including surrealists, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, and American expressionist, Jackson Pollock.

Her bright and decorative paintings, possess a cheerful innocence and naiveté which seems to hides a murky undercurrent. Her colourful doll like, bare-breasted women, shroud a multitude of insecurities and a sense of powerlessness that she felt throughout her frequently troubled life.  Pegeen had a tumultuous relationship with her mother and struggled all her life with depression. An alcoholic reputedly addicted to Valium and sleeping pills, Pegeen had many times attempted to commit suicide. Her husband the English painter, Ralph Rumney claimed that he had rescued her from seventeen attempts!

Perhaps if her surname had been Smith and not Guggenheim, she may have stood a better chance of ‘making it’ as an artist. Though she struggled to have her work taken seriously, it was featured in exhibitions dedicated exclusively to Modern women artists: Exhibition by 31 Women, and then The Women, at Art of this Century, the short-lived gallery opened by Peggy Guggenheim in New York in October 1942.

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim died in Paris in 1967, at the age of 41 years after overdosing on her medication, leaving behind her four young sons, her husband and a devastated mother.

After her death, Pegeen’s art would have faded into obscurity were it not for Peggy Guggenheim devoting a room in her Venetian Palazzo (now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection Museum) to some of her daughter’s paintings, where they can still be seen today. A mother’s love?

In 2010 the first biography of Pegeen Vail Guggenheim was published, written by her son, artist and photographer, Benjamin Helion and friend Benjamin Lanot.


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