Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) is probably best known for her Venice collection, but the American born socialite turned art collector actually first exhibited her pieces in London and New York before settling in Italy. In fact, she even established a gallery in Britain, Guggenheim Jeune, which ran between 1938 and 1939, and which is now the subject of a new exhibition Peggy Guggenheim and London at Ordovas in Mayfair.
Located at 30 Cork Street, the location of Guggenheim’s London outfit is still a hub of contemporary art today, and is just around the corner from the exhibition that is now commemorating its existence on Savile Rowe. Open between January 1938 and June 1939, Guggenheim Jeune exhibited the work of Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Henry Moore, Rene Magritte and Max Ernst against many others. The first ever artwork she acquired was a sculpture by Jean (Hans) Arp, Tete et coquille (1933), who featured in a quarter of all exhibitions in London. And, it is the work of Arp, along with Yves Tanguy – the artist behind the gallery’s most successful exhibition, Exhibition of Paintings by Yves Tanguy (6-16 July 1938) – whose work is on display at Ordovas today, 80 years after Guggenheim Jeune’s closure.
The name – Guggenheim Jeune – was the idea of Guggenheim’s friend Winifred Henderson and it associates itself with both Guggenheim as the younger of two Guggenheim art giants (the elder being her uncle Solomon), as well as comparing itself to Bernheim Jeune, the leading Parisian gallery at the time. And yet, despite the Ordovas exhibition lending its name to the great arts patron, its two artists – Jean (Hans) Arp and Yves Tanguy – really take centre stage. Tanguy’s delicate, surrealistic paintings have a gentle haunting quality to them. Encapsulating the feeling of surrealism, one critic from The Times likened his works to a “moon landscape”, which perfectly explains the dreamlike, otherworldly quality to it. Arp’s sculptures meanwhile, sit quietly within the gallery space. And, monochromatic and unusual in form, Trois objets desagreables sur une figure (Head with annoying objects), 1930 and Fruit de pagoda (Pagoda Fruit), 1949 look as though they walked straight out of a Tanguy painting and into the gallery space.
The Ordovas exhibition includes pieces that were originally on show at Guggenheim Jeune, as well as works on display in the UK for the very first time. Among them is Tanguy’s En le temps menacent (In menacing times) 1929, Sans titre (untitled) 1931 and Titre Inconnu (Title unknown) 1933. Also exhibited for the first time is Jean (Hans) Apr’s 1946 Flocons aux rayons jaunes (Flakes with Yellow Rays), a wood relief of cloud-shaped objects exhibited in the artist’s original painted frame.
In addition to artwork, the Ordovas exhibition includes invitations to exhibitions, floor plans and other ephemera produced during Guggenheim Jeune’s time in London. There are also two rings made by Tanguy in 1937. The pair–had a romantic affair and Tanguy made the rings for Guggenheim from rosewood found at Yew Tree Cottage, her home in Sussex. The exhibition of this jewellery perfectly illustrates Guggenheim’s relationship with her artists, who were not just business partners, but friends.
Yet, despite Guggenheim presenting London with some of the most cutting edge avant-garde artists of its day, Guggenheim Jeune short-lived. Guggenheim did have grand plans for the British capital, hoping to establish a museum exclusively devoted to modern art, which London was very much lacking at the time, but those plans were unfortunately scuppered by conflict. At the onset of the Second World War Guggenheim was in Paris, and instead of returning to London, she went on to New York, eventually settling in Venice. But, it is worth noting that Peggy Guggenheim’s famed Venice collection has its origins in London, which is exactly why the Ordovas exhibition is so exciting.
Peggy Guggenheim and London is on display at Ordovas, 25 Savile Rowe, London W1S 2ER until 14 December 2019