On this day…5 February

On 5 February 1938 Joyce thanked Peggy Guggenheim for her birthday gift of a blackthorn stick.

Peggy Guggenheim was born in 1898 into a branch of the wealthy Guggenheim family. Her father died in the Titanic disaster leaving her with an inheritance on which she could live well. She started working at the Sunwise Turn, an avant-garde bookshop in New York run by her cousin Howard Loeb. Here she met Laurence Vail, whom she later married, and through the publishers Boni & Liveright she met Leon Fleischman and his wife Helen.

She moved to Paris after the war and became involved in a large circle of artists and writers, including Mina Loy, Djuna Barnes, Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Berenice Abbott, Isadora Duncan, and Marcel Duchamp among others. She also encouraged her friends the Fleischmans to go to Paris too, and there they formed part of a circle with Alec Ponisovsky and Giorgio Joyce.

Helen Fleischman had an affair with Laurence Vail but Guggenheim proved more alluring, and she and Vail married in Paris in March 1922. The Joyces were invited to the wedding breakfast, though Joyce told Robert McAlmon he was surprised at the invitation. Vail and Guggenheim had two children together but the marriage wasn’t successful. Peggy Guggenheim married a second time to John Holms, who was a friend of Joyce’s biographer, Herbert Gorman.

On 26 December 1937, Guggenheim was invited to join Nora, James and Giorgio Joyce, and Giorgio’s wife, Helen Fleischman, and another mutual friend, Samuel Beckett, at Fouquet’s. After the meal, they all went back to Giorgio and Helen’s flat for drinks. Beckett accompanied Guggenheim home and they spent the next day in bed together, drinking champagne and making love. The affair was short-lived but Guggenheim remained infatuated with Beckett for some time.

In January 1938, Beckett was stabbed on the street and taken to hospital where he lapsed into a coma. Joyce heard the news and immediately went to the hospital to organise a private room and the best medical attention for his friend. Guggenheim too was among the many visitors Beckett received while he remained in hospital. At the time, she was organising her own art gallery, the Guggenheim Jeune, at 30 Cork Street, London, which opened on 24 January 1938 with an exhibition of works by Jean Cocteau.

On his birthday in February 1938, Guggenheim presented Joyce with a blackthorn walking stick for which he thanked her on 5 February. Joyce visited Zurich soon after where Carola Giedion-Welcker took several photographs of him, in which he can be seen holding what might well be the blackthorn stick he’d received from Peggy Guggenheim.

Guggenheim, who later had an affair with Giorgio Joyce, remained in Paris until the summer of 1940 when she returned New York. It was thanks to the efforts of Alec Ponisovsky and Giorgio Joyce that she managed to get her art collection back to New York where it went on display in 1942 in her own innovative art gallery.


Sources & Further Reading:

Dearborn, Mary: Peggy Guggenheim – Mistress of Modernism, London: Virago, 2004

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Maddox, Brenda: Nora – A Biography of Nora Joyce, London: Hamish Hamilton, 1988.

Shloss, Carol Loeb: Lucia Joyce – To Dance in the Wake, New York: Farar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.

Gill, Anton: Art Lover – A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim, New York: Harper Perennial, 2003.