At age sixty-six, the wealthy American industrialist Solomon R. Guggenheim begins to form a large collection of important modern paintings by artists such as Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall. He is guided in this pursuit by a young German artist and theorist, Hilla Rebay (born Baroness Hilla Rebay von Ehrenwiesen). In July 1930, Rebay brings Guggenheim to Vasily Kandinsky's Dessau studio, and Guggenheim purchases several of the artist’s paintings and works on paper; he will eventually acquire more than 150 works by Kandinsky.
Guggenheim's growing collection is installed in his private apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Small exhibitions of newly acquired works are held there intermittently for the public. Rebay organizes a landmark loan exhibition entitled Solomon R. Guggenheim Collection of Non-Objective Paintings, which travels to Charleston, South Carolina; Philadelphia; and Baltimore.
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation is formed for the "promotion and encouragement and education in art and the enlightenment of the public." Chartered by the Board of Regents of New York State, the foundation is endowed to operate one or more museums. Solomon Guggenheim is elected the first president of the foundation, and Rebay is appointed its curator.
At age forty, Peggy Guggenheim, Solomon's niece, opens Guggenheim Jeune, a commercial art gallery in London representing such avant-garde artists as Jean Cocteau, Kandinsky, and Yves Tanguy. Initially advised by Herbert Read and Marcel Duchamp, she soon begins to amass her own important collection of Surrealist and abstract art.
Under the auspices of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, the Museum of Non-Objective Painting opens in rented quarters at 24 East Fifty-fourth Street. Under Rebay’s direction, the museum—decorated with pleated gray velour on the walls and thick gray carpeting, and featuring recorded classical music and incense—showcases Solomon's collection of American and European abstract artists.
Peggy opens Art of This Century, a unique gallery-museum on Fifty-seventh Street in New York, designed by Frederick Kiesler. The inaugural installation features her own collection displayed in unconventional ways. Over the next five years, Peggy mounts dozens of important exhibitions devoted to European and American artists such as Giorgio de Chirico, Robert Motherwell, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko.
Solomon and Rebay commission Frank Lloyd Wright to design a permanent structure to house the Museum of Non-Objective Painting. Over the next sixteen years, Wright will make some 700 sketches and six separate sets of working drawings for the building. The foundation acquires a tract of land between East Eighty-eighth and Eighty-ninth Streets on Fifth Avenue, but construction is delayed until 1956 for various reasons, foremost among them postwar inflation.
One year after Peggy exhibits her now fabled collection of Cubist, Surrealist, and European abstract painting and sculpture at the Venice Biennale, she purchases the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Venice's Grand Canal, installs her collection there, and opens it to the public. She establishes the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation to operate and endow the museum.