Laurence Vail was born in Paris on January 28, 1891, to American parents. His father, Eugène Vail, was a painter, renowned for his depictions of Brittany and Venice. For many years throughout his childhood, Vail accompanied his father on his travels to Venice. Having initially studied in France, he moved to England to study literature at Oxford University. Upon his return to Paris, he devoted himself to writing plays and essays, translating books from French, painting, sculpting, and creating collages. In the late 1920s he was considered a main figure of Paris's flourishing intellectual and social circles, to the extent that he became known as the "King of Bohemia." He associated with writers and artists, including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, who crowded the cafes of Montparnasse.

In 1922 he married Peggy Guggenheim, who was, in his eyes, a young woman to whom he could teach art, life, and literature. After the birth of their first son, Sindbad, the couple travelled to Italy and Egypt. In 1926 they went to Switzerland, where their second child, Pegeen, was born. The family settled in Pramousquier in the south of France, where Vail started writing the novel Murder! Murder!, a cutting satire about his marriage, published in 1932. He also continued to paint, creating a series of works which were exhibited for the first time in 1926 at the Parisian boutique on the rue du Colisée managed by Guggenheim and her business partner, Mina Loy. In 1938 he exhibited two paintings in a collage show at Guggenheim’s London gallery, Guggenheim Jeune, and soon after began making collages on bottles.

Following the German invasion of France, Vail left for New York. In 1942 he exhibited with Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp at Art of This Century, the museum-gallery opened that year by Guggenheim, whom Vail had by then separated from. Vail exhibited often at Art of This Century before returning to France at the end of the war. After solo exhibitions in Paris, he showed at the Galleria del Cavallino in Venice and at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan in 1955. In 1962 he participated in the Assemblage group exhibition, held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the following year he exhibited at the Iris Clerc Gallery in Paris. Vail died in Paris on April 16, 1968. His work is held in various museums and private collections both in Italy and abroad.


Laurence Vail



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