Peggy Guggenheim The Shock of the Modern Francine Prose

Jewish Lives
Publication date:
15 Oct 2016
Yale University Press
240 pages: 210 x 140mm
12 b-w illus.
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A spirited portrait of the colorful, irrepressible, and iconoclastic American collector who fearlessly advanced the cause of modern art

One of twentieth-century America’s most influential patrons of the arts, Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) brought to wide public attention the work of such modern masters as Jackson Pollock and Man Ray. In her time, there was no stronger advocate for the groundbreaking and the avant-garde. Her midtown gallery was the acknowledged center of the postwar New York art scene, and her museum on the Grand Canal in Venice remains one of the world’s great collections of modern art. Yet as renowned as she was for the art and artists she so tirelessly championed, Guggenheim was equally famous for her unconventional personal life, and for her ironic, playful desire to shock.
Acclaimed best-selling author Francine Prose offers a singular reading of Guggenheim’s life that will enthrall enthusiasts of twentieth-century art, as well as anyone interested in American and European culture and the interrelationships between them. The lively and insightful narrative follows Guggenheim through virtually every aspect of her extraordinary life, from her unique collecting habits and paradigm-changing discoveries, to her celebrity friendships, failed marriages, and scandalous affairs, and Prose delivers a colorful portrait of a defiantly uncompromising woman who maintained a powerful upper hand in a male-dominated world. Prose also explores the ways in which Guggenheim’s image was filtered through the lens of insidious antisemitism.

New York Times best-selling author and National Book Award finalist Francine Prose has written more than twenty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Caravaggio and Reading Like a Writer.

"A whirlwind tour in a compact, peppy car through the tumultuous life of the most famous patron of modern art."—Prudence Peiffer, Artforum

"This excellent short biography appears in Yale’s 'Jewish Lives' series, and Prose is a subtle and attentive chronicler. . . "—Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

"By describing fairly the limits of her wealth, and the nous with which she spent it, Prose does justice to this great modern Maecenas."—Iona McLaren, Daily Telegraph

"Vibrant."—New Yorker

"This succinct biography of one of the last century’s greatest collectors is an elegantly written account of the difficult and controversial life of Peggy Guggenheim."—Marina Vaizey, Art Newspaper

"Lively, complex, and inclined to shock, Guggenheim (1898–1979), the modern art collector, emerges as the embodiment of the age in Prose’s judicious biography."—Publishers Weekly

"Prose skillfully blends the events of Guggenheim's experience with details about the 20th-century art scene, all in a vivid setting of time and place. Her depictions of key artists, family members, husbands, and others are distinctive in their complexity of character and contribute to a deeper understanding of the personal and professional facets of this enigmatic woman. . . . This finely researched and well-written work honestly examines the often disturbing world of an acclaimed figure."—Library Journal

"Prose situates Guggenheim right in the middle of the Modernist, as a new kind of woman who is hard to define, and in that she is a perfect product and reflection of her age, never less than fascinating. Without her, modern art would be much the poorer."—Lesley McDowell, Independent on Sunday

In 2014 the Jewish Book Council awarded the Jewish Book of the Year honor to the Jewish Lives series—the first time in its history that a series was so honored—in recognition of its achievements thus far and its forthcoming contributions for years to come.

“An extraordinary study of an extraordinary woman’s life, by a truly gifted writer. While Detailing Guggenheim’s incredible, unique contribution as a patron of the arts, Prose presents her as both glamourous and fragile.”—Padma Lakshmi, The Week