Sometime three is not a charm — and neither is four. On Wednesday, a court dismissed the fourth attempt of several French descendants of Peggy Guggenheim to gain greater control of the deceased art patron’s collection, housed in Venice and managed by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in New York.
“In its decision, the Paris Court of Appeal confirmed the Foundation’s full right to determine the management and curatorial program of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection,” the foundation wrote in a statement released the same day. The court also ordered the plaintiffs to pay nearly $34,000 in legal costs.
The awkward dispute between the French and American branches of Guggenheim’s family dates back to 1992, when two of Peggy’s grandsons, Sandro Rumney and his half-brother Nicolas Hélion, filed a lawsuit against the New York–based foundation, claiming that it was disregarding her wishes for the collection. A Paris district court rejected the allegations in 1994, but after an appeal, the foundation agreed to form a Peggy Guggenheim Collection Family Committee that would “have a purely symbolic function” in 1996.
Technically, the men had no legal claim to the collection. Before her death in 1979, Peggy donated her art collection to the New York foundation, which was established by her uncle Solomon and run by her cousin Harry. And when she died, her entire estate was revealed to have been willed not to her daughter — and the mother of the suing grandsons — Pegeen Vail Guggenheim, but to their uncle Sinbad Vail.
During the 2013 Venice Biennale, however, Rumney visited the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, the Palazzo Venier dei Leon, and saw its facade inscribed with the names of Rudolph B. and Hannelore B. Schulhof, American art collectors whose works are also on display there. He was furious and launched another lawsuit, along with his half-brother Nicolas and five of their children. They claimed the collection had been “diluted” and demanded that the Schulhofs’ works be removed, pointing to a series of exchanges between Peggy and Harry in 1969 in which Harry agreed that her collection be “kept as a whole and at the palazzo.” They also asked for better “protection” in the garden around a plaque that marks Peggy’s ashes.
Some criticized the suit at the time. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Jones described it as a “frankly mystifying legal action” and “a load of nonsense.” The lower Parisian court agreed and threw out the case in July 2014. The descendants appealed again on May 19, and now a higher court has dismissed the case.
It’s unclear whether they’ll bring a fifth suit, but for now the New York foundation — which employs one of Peggy’s grandchildren and is supported by three more — can rest easy. “The Foundation is proud to have faithfully carried out the wishes of Peggy Guggenheim for more than thirty years by preserving her collection intact in the Palazzo, restoring and maintaining the Palazzo as a public museum and contributing to the knowledge of modern and contemporary art in Italy,” it said in its statement.
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