If the Gardner Museum in Boston celebrates Venice’s glorious past, the Guggenheim in Venice is a celebration of modernity. In 1946 Peggy Guggenheim decided to leave Paris and accompanied her husband on a trip to Venice: “On my way there, I decided Venice would be my future home. I had always loved it more than any place on earth and felt I would be happy alone there. I set about trying to find a palace that would house my collection and provide a garden for my dogs.” By spring 1948, she was back in Venice, renting an apartment in the Palazzo Barbaro, and, that same year her collection was exhibited at the Venice Biennale where it was hailed as the most comprehensive survey of abstract and Surrealist art yet seen in Italy. In December 1948, Peggy bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an unfinished eighteenth-century palazzo on the Grand Canal with one of the largest gardens in Venice which she proceeded to transform into a temple of modernism.
From May 1949 Peggy kept visitors’ books, which include an amazing collection of signatures, drawings, sketches, comments, reminiscences, poems, and even musical bars (in the case of Stravinsky).
The Anglo-American community in particular flocked to Peggy's palazzo, in the same way that they flocked to Harry's Bar, diagonally opposite, on the other side of the Grand Canal. She became a living legend, and her home a cultural landmark. To be invited there was a very special privilege as the beat poet Allen Ginsberg wrote:
“Thank you for saying OK on my coming to your house tomorrow night.
I've never been in a great formal historic salon before & naturally have been eager to go there,
be accepted, see pictures at leisure, sip big cocktails, gaze over grand canal, be a poet in Venice surrounded by famous ladies, echoes of Partisan Review & the 20's & surrealists,
butlers & gondolas, enjoy a little fame and escape the illusion of poverty
- all tempting, especially the sense of acceptance.”
But when the much younger Ginsberg arrived for an evening à deux, it became evident that Peggy Guggenheim’s interests were not entirely disinterested.