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Statement from the Guggenheim about the current lawsuit regarding the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy Guggenheim Collection (right) on the Grand Canal in Venice. Photo: David M. Heald © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.
NEW YORK, NY.- Peggy Guggenheim donated her Venice home (the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni) to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation in 1970 and donated her art collection to the Foundation in 1976. She stated only one purpose for these donations in her deeds of gift: “to demonstrate her admiration for the activities carried out by ‘The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’… concerning the study, the divulgation and the knowledge of works of art, in particular modern works of art, and with the purpose of expanding and fostering such activities in Italy."

For more than thirty years, the Foundation has faithfully carried out these wishes. Entirely at its own expense, because no endowment was attached to Peggy Guggenheim’s gifts, the Foundation has:

• extensively repaired and renovated the palazzo, both to preserve a structure that had suffered from deferred maintenance and to enable the building to function as a public museum, as Peggy Guggenheim had wished;

• maintained her collection of artworks intact in the palazzo, conserving them to the highest museum standards and never disposing of a single piece;

• and fulfilled Peggy Guggenheim’s wish to make these works more widely known and appreciated.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection today is the most visited museum of modern art in Italy and in 2013 was the second most visited museum in Venice, exceeded only by the Doge’s Palace. Operating as a not-for-profit institution, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection maintains the collection, palazzo and gardens and provides an ongoing schedule of exhibitions and programs, including extensive educational offerings.

A recent lawsuit against the Foundation filed by one faction of Peggy Guggenheim’s descendants misrepresents both the purpose of Peggy Guggenheim’s gift to the Foundation and the Foundation’s record of achievement. Reports in the media that uncritically repeat the baseless allegations made by the plaintiffs in this lawsuit are erroneous.

The Foundation wishes to draw attention to these facts:

1. The two grandsons of Peggy Guggenheim who with their children have filed the current lawsuit, Sandro Rumney and Nicolas Hélion, are descendants of Peggy Guggenheim but are not her heirs and were not mentioned in her will. Peggy Guggenheim left her entire estate to her son Sindbad Vail, who was also her sole executor. Mr. Rumney and Mr. Hélion are the sons of Peggy Guggenheim’s only other child, Pegeen Vail.

2. The children of Sindbad Vail are not participating in this lawsuit. They have expressed disappointment about its having been initiated and have endorsed the Foundation’s record of achievements in Venice.

3. Three of Peggy Guggenheim’s grandchildren and one of her great-grandchildren have written letters of support in this case for inclusion in the Foundation’s brief in which they express their belief that the Foundation has honored their grandmother’s wishes.

4. The complaints in the current lawsuit are essentially the same as those that were put forward, and rejected, in a 1992 lawsuit brought by Mr. Rumney and Mr. Hélion (and their late brother, David Hélion) before the same court in Paris. In that earlier lawsuit, the plaintiffs incorrectly alleged that Peggy Guggenheim had placed “precise conditions” on her gifts concerning the manner in which the collection was to be maintained and exhibited, with the palazzo being kept unaltered as a memorial and a house museum.

5. In December 1994, the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris (Paris District Court) totally rejected the 1992 allegations, finding that “the only legally applicable deeds [of gift] do not subject Peggy Guggenheim’s gifts to the foundation to any special conditions” and that “the author herself did not specify the inviolable character of the organization and presentation of her collection in the gift deeds.” The court dismissed the case and sentenced Sandro Rumney and Nicolas and David Hélion to pay damages to the Foundation, in addition to court costs.

6. Rumney and Hélion subsequently appealed the court’s decision. Rather than continue to bear the considerable trouble and cost of frivolous litigation, which the Foundation did not deem to be a proper use for a not-for-profit’s resources, the Foundation offered a settlement agreement, which was signed in December 1996. In the settlement, the Foundation agreed to no financial payment other than a contribution of up to $30,000 toward the attorneys’ fees for the plaintiffs’ failed lawsuit. In the settlement agreement, Sandro Rumney and Nicolas Hélion explicitly acknowledged “the exclusive right of the Foundation to the exercise of its control over conservation of the Collection and exhibition of the works of art in the Palace” and that the Foundation “will continue its efforts to present from time to time the greatest possible number of works of the Collection that it should judge, at its sole discretion, to be the optimum number for presentation of the Collection.”

7. The settlement agreement provided for the creation of a Peggy Guggenheim Collection Family Committee, which, as stated in the agreement, “will have a purely symbolic function” and “will not hold formal meetings.”

8. Sandro Rumney and Nicolas Hélion and their children have now entered a new lawsuit against the Foundation in the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, on grounds that the same court has already found to be baseless, and that the plaintiffs themselves abandoned in the 1996 settlement agreement.

9. By their own actions, the plaintiffs have repeatedly contradicted their own position.

• They insist that no works other than Peggy Guggenheim’s be exhibited in the palazzo or the garden. Yet between 1999 and 2013, they were instrumental in organizing fourteen exhibitions of works entirely foreign to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection that were shown in the palazzo, on the Grand Canal terrace of the palazzo or in the garden.

• They object to works other than those donated by Peggy Guggenheim being kept and exhibited at the museum in Venice. Yet they themselves have donated multiple works to be kept and exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

• They luridly mischaracterize the receptions held in the garden as a “desecration” of Peggy Guggenheim’s grave. Yet these events carry forward Peggy Guggenheim’s own tradition of sociability in the garden. They are held with great consideration and respect for the quiet corner of the garden in which Peggy Guggenheim’s urn is interred. And Mr. Rumney and Mr. Hélion themselves have participated in garden events many times over the years.

Despite the frivolous lawsuit and misleading reports in the media, the Foundation has worked to make the name of Peggy Guggenheim and the renown of her achievements more celebrated than ever before and will continue to ensure that Peggy Guggenheim’s collection is honored and preserved.

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