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Laurence Vail was born in Paris on January 28, 1891, to American parents. His father, Eugène Vail, was also a painter, renowned for his depictions of Brittany and Venice. For many years throughout his childhood, Laurence accompanied his father on his travels to Venice. Having initially studied in France, Laurence 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 protagonist of the intense intellectual and social circles of Paris, to the extent that he was named the ‘King of Bohemia.’ He associated with writers and artists including Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, who crowded the cafes in 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 Rue du Colisée that was managed by Peggy and her business partner, Mina Loy. In 1938 he exhibited two paintings in a collage show at Peggy Guggenheim’s London gallery, Guggenheim Jeune, and soon after began making collages on bottles.
Following the German invasion, Vail left France for New York and in 1942 exhibited at the Art of This Centuy gallery with Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp. The gallery had been opened by Peggy Guggenheim that year, though she and Laurence had already separated. Vail often exhibited 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 in 1955 and at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan. In 1962 he participated in the group exhibition Assemblage at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the following year he exhibited at the Iris Clerc Gallery in Paris. He died in Paris on April 16, 1968. His work is held in various museums and private collections both in Italy and abroad.