September 1998 – February 1999

The opening of the exhibition dedicated to Peggy Guggenheim’s centenary year on September 29 coincides with the presentation to the press and the public of a new installation dedicated to ‘Three Collectors’. From September 1998 to early February 1999, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Peggy Guggenheim’s former home on the Grand Canal of Venice, will host paintings and sculptures from Peggy Guggenheim’s founding collection combined with paintings from the collections of two other great 20th century collectors, Gianni Mattioli and Solomon Guggenheim. This will occasion an unprecedented juxtaposition of great works representing some of the major movements and artists of the early 20th century: Cubism (Picasso, Braque and others), Futurism (Boccioni, Balla, Carrà, Severini, Russolo), pittura metafisica (de Chirico and Carrà), the Blaue Reiter (Kandinsky and Marc), the Bauhaus, Klee, Modigliani, Morandi, Brancusi, Magnelli, Mondrian, Surrealism (Dalí, Ernst, Miró and others), Giacometti, Léger, as well as post-war art with examples of the work of Pollock, Baziotes, Tamayo, Dubuffet, Bacon and Venetian painters such as Vedova, Santomaso, Bacci and Tancredi. Textbook classics of modern art such as Boccioni’s Materia, Kandinsky’s Painting with White Border, Marc’s Yellow Cow, Brancusi’s Bird in Space, Balla’s Mercury Passing before the Sun, and Picasso’s On the Beach, and many others, will make this special presentation a masterpiece anthology of one of the most creative epochs in Western Art—the 20th century Modernist avant-garde.

Gianni Mattioli (1903-1977) grew up in Milan where from an early age he showed a passion for contemporary Italian literary and visual culture. In 1921 he met Fortunato Depero, Futurist painter and designer, who introduced him to the Futurist circle led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In the late 1940s Gianni Mattioli’s career in the cotton trading business in Milan prospered to the point where he was able at last to realize a life-long dream—the creation of a collection that would show the best of contemporary Italian art, beginning with (but not limited to) Futurism. In 1953, the Gianni Mattioli collection was presented for the first time in Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, but meanwhile major works had already contributed to the success  of the 1949 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, called ‘XXth Century Italian Art’. Mattioli became an active figure, together with Fernanda Wittgens, in the post-war Milanese art scene—promoting exhibitions of modern Italian artists and accessions of contemporary art for public collections. In the 1950s and 60s his own collection was visible to the public in Via Senato, Milan. Between 1967 and 1972, the collection traveled to museums world-wide, affirming its status as one of the greatest of its kind. Since September 1997, twenty-six paintings from the Gianni Mattioli Collection have been on long term loan to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949) was the founder of the museum that bears his name in New York, and a member of the large, affluent family of Swiss origin which amassed its fortune in American mining during the nineteenth century. In 1927, he was befriended by Hilla Rebay, a young German painter, who convinced him to collect contemporary abstract (‘non-objective’) painting. Thus began one of the most remarkable collections of the art of Kandinsky, and of many other exponents and pre-cursors of abstraction, in the world. In 1937, Solomon created a foundation in his name, and in 1939 opened the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in New York, with Hilla Rebay as first director. In 1949, following the founder’s death, the museum took Solomon ‘s name, and in 1959 Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural icon, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, was inaugurated. Thirty paintings from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, including a small number from Solomon’s founding gift, will be presented in the ‘Three Collector’s’ installation.

Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), Solomon’s niece and the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim who famously died on the SS: Titanic in 1912, began her collection in 1939 with the purpose of creating a museum of contemporary art in London. Peggy, though born in New York, had been based in Europe through the 1920s and 30s, and in 1938 had opened in London a gallery of contemporary art called Guggenheim Jeune. Peggy took advice from Herbert Read, Marcel Duchamp, Nellie Van Doesburg and Howard Putzel, in the swift creation of her collection between 1939 and 1942. Her plans in London were frustrated by the outbreak of World War II and in July 1941 Peggy returned to New York. From 1942 to 1947 Peggy operated a museum-gallery in New York, called Art of This Century, where she not only exhibited her collection of the European avant-garde but gave temporary exhibitions to young American artists: as Jackson Pollock, William Baziotes, Robert Motherwell and others who were later to become known as the Abstract Expressionists. In 1948 Peggy’s collection was presented for the first time in Europe at the Venice Biennale and soon after Peggy bought Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, where she lived for thirty years. She gave her palace and collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation during her lifetime, on the condition that the collection remain in Venice. 1998 is both the centenary year of Peggy’s birth and the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of the collection in La Serenissima.

These three great collectors, in their different ways, all played a determining role in the course of 20th century modernist art, spreading the knowledge of the avant-garde, generously sustaining the artists themselves and sharing their enthusiasms and their treasures with a wider public.