Women Artists

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim – A Never Understood Daughter

Magda Michalska 22 November 2023 min Read

You must have heard of the family Guggenheim, wealthy merchants who became the prominent art collectors and patrons of modern art. You probably know Solomon R. Guggenheim and his art collection in New York, and Peggy Guggenheim, his niece, who established her own collection of modern art in Venice. But have you ever heard of Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, the daughter of Peggy? This is her story. 

Difficult Childhood

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, Untitled, 1946, Private Collection
Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, Untitled, 1946, private collection.

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim was Peggy Guggenheim’s second child with her first husband Laurence Vail. She was born in Switzerland, and spent a lot of time away from her mother, especially after Peggy Guggenheim and Vail had split. She studied in England and France, but in 1941 she went back with her mother and her second husband Max Ernst to the United States.


Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, The Exhibition, 1945, Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venice
Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, The Exhibition, 1945, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

Although Peggy Guggenheim loved her daughter and admired both her fragile and delicate beauty, as well as her art, they never had an exemplary relationship. They couldn’t understand each other and would often argue. Vail Guggenheim admired her mother and the lack of attention from her side might have been one of the causes behind the depression from which she suffered since her adolescent years.


Pegeen Vail, Girls in the Arches, ca. 1936, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, Girls in the Arches, ca. 1936, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

In the US she met her first husband, French painter, Jean Hélion, who was among the first artists to introduce abstraction to the United States. They married in 1946 and had three children. They moved to Paris but divorced after 10 years. A year later, she met her second husband, the English painter Ralph Rumney, whom Peggy Guggenheim detested. They had one son.


Pegeen Vail, Family Portrait, late 1950s, Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia
Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, Family Portrait, late 1950s, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

Peggy Guggenheim promoted her daughter’s art from the beginning, however there never was any kind of nepotism – Vail Guggenheim was admired by all, her style a combination of naive and Surrealist art. She exhibited across Europe and the US and was friends with the majority of the modern artists of her time. Although her works seem cheerful and carefree, one can sense in them a second lining of melancholy and sadness. Vail Guggenheim, who never had a happy family, tried to make it up in her paintings, where everyone seems happy and loved.

The End

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, My Wedding, 1946, Collezione Peggy Guggenheim, Venezia
Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, My Wedding, 1946, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy.

Vail Guggenheimdied tragically in 1967. She was found dead in her apartment having overdosed the medication. Her mother never accepted it could have been a suicide.

Pegeen Vail Guggenheim
John Deakin, Pegeen Vail Guggenheim in her home in Paris, France, mid 1950s. Pinterest.

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