Simone Collinet, née Kahn (1897–1980), played a crucial role in the early phase of Surrealism and owned an outstanding collection of Surrealist art. It is shown here for the first time as a separate entity.
Simone got to know André Breton in 1920 and they were married a year later. Until the breach between them in autumn 1928 Simone was an important player in the Surrealist group and headed the Bureau central des recherches surréalistes. A text written by her and signed “S.B.” appeared in 1924 in the major Surrealist review La Révolution surréaliste.
Their joint collection, housed in their studio apartment in the rue Fontaine in Paris, was of the finest quality. Its contents were split up between them when they separated. Unlike Breton’s works, the larger part of Simone’s collection remains in her family’s possession. Its paintings, works on paper, photographs, and examples of non-European art, all of outstanding quality, reflect the full range of a typical Surrealist collection. Simone also owned an important collection of Surrealist autographs, including Breton’s manuscript of the first manifesto. Like the remaining autographs on display, which no longer form part of the collection, it is here reunited with other items formerly owned by Simone, among them a painting by Giorgio de Chirico and a drawing by André Masson.
Following the dissolution of her marriage to Breton in 1931, Simone remained true to the intellectual and artistic concerns of her old friends throughout the 1930s. In later years she again maintained friendly relations with Breton. In 1938 she married the leftist politician Michel Collinet. After World War II, Simone was active as an art dealer, with Surrealist and Dada art featuring prominently in her gallery. Two paintings by Masson in the present exhibition bear witness to her continued expansion of her collection. She also acquired major works by Picabia at this time.
The unconventional mix of genres and media in this presentation means to emphasize the private character of the collection.
To the most prominent collectors and promoters of Surrealist art, the American Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) a whole room is devoted in the exhibition. Guggenheim began collecting modern art after becoming interested in it in the early 1920s. In 1938 she opened her first gallery, Guggenheim jeune, in London, where she showed Surrealist and other modern work. She was friends with many artists and supported them financially for longer periods. In 1940-41 she helped Max Ernst, André Breton, and Victor Brauner to escape Nazi-dominated Europe and emigrate to the U.S.A., where she supported them and other émigré artists. In 1941 she married Ernst, but they separated a year later.
In 1942 Guggenheim opened her legendary gallery Art of This Century in New York. There she presented her collection of Surrealist and Abstract art in two sections. At the opening she wore one earring by Yves Tanguy and one by Alexander Calder as a way of proclaiming her impartiality in the opposition between Surrealist and Abstract art.
In 1951 Guggenheim opened her collection in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Venice, to the public.
The room dedicated to Peggy Guggenheim has been designed in collaboration with the staff of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Along with major works from this museum, it contains items from elsewhere that once belonged to Peggy or passed through her hands. The selection testifies to the personal view of Surrealism held by this great collector and passionate champion of modern art. Its installation recalls the exhibition architecture devised by Friedrich Kiesler for the Surrealist section of the Art of This Century gallery.