Every evening at precisely six o’clock Peggy Guggenheim—Ultima Dogaressa, Champagne Glug-Glug of the Grand Canal—would take a punt around Venice in her private, black-lacquered gondola. Wigwagging, lollygagging about the waterways accompanied by her Canal-Casanova, today’s preferred gondolier plucked from the gang of gigolos at her disposal. From behind spectacular sunglasses, the Art World’s Grande Dame, the collector superior, buttocks cushioned on her throne, would pop a cork and toast her city, her Venezia preziosa, sipping from a crystal coupe before tossing the remainder of the bottle to the fishes, who would multiply in giddy pleasure.

Perhaps some daily witness—for there were plenty such—to this biblical-miracle-spectacle might have guessed that one day the vision would vanish, fizzing up on a bubble of vintage champagne and floating off. But no one would have gone so far as to imagine that Peggy herself, the flesh-and-blood Party Queen, could actually disappear.