About Hazel

King-Farlow, Hazel, 1903-1995; Swiss Lake
King-Farlow, Hazel; Swiss Lake; The Hepworth Wakefield; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/swiss-lake-22661

Barbara Hazel Guggenheim McKinley, sister of the more renowned Peggy Guggenheim, is unfortunately best known for a terrible tragedy that occurred almost 90 years ago, when her first two children died in what was officially ruled an accidental fall from a New York city rooftop.

The incident sent shock waves throughout the upper crust world of Jewish aristocracy that the Guggenheims belonged to, and left Hazel permanently stigmatized, living out her life as the exiled black sheep of the family. This, her own description of herself, gives some insight into the itinerant life she led, until she finally settled in New Orleans in the late 1960s.

What is not mentioned as often is that Hazel left a prolific body of work behind when she died in 1995. She’d begun painting already as a teenager, and when her first marriage failed, she ended up in France with her second husband. There, she broke free of the constraints of her restrictive upbringing, and dove headfirst into la vie bohème of 1920’s Paris, where she began receiving tuitions from modernist painters of the day.

When her second marriage ended, she moved to England with her third husband, and continued with her training. She was drawn to a group of avant-garde artists that had come together as a reaction to the stranglehold which the Royal Academy had on exhibiting new work. And Hazel began painting in earnest, using her new married name of King-Farlow. The first exhibitions of her paintings were held in England in the 1930s under this name.

Her many watercolors, drawings, and oil paintings, have been shown in galleries around the world, and can be found in many private collections, especially in the southern United States. She is considered by many in the USA a “New Orleans” artist, having spent such a large part of her adult life there. Reviews of her art over the years have been positive, but also divided, running the gamut at times from enthusiastic to dismissive.

Whatever the opinions about her work, art appears to have been the fundamental element that her life revolved around. Either producing it herself, or by mentoring and generously supporting the many artistic and literary figures that she surrounded herself with. She had a reputation as an eccentric, yet kindhearted member of the Bohemian circles that she frequented.

From the 1920s-30s spent in Paris and London, to the 1940’s wartime Los Angeles, and throughout the remainder of her life, her many acquaintances included members of the European and American avant-garde and modernist movements. She was known for her salons and parties that brought some of the most interesting personalities of the 20th century art and literary worlds together. She continued studying art on into her 80s, taking classes at various colleges and universities, and at times teaching as a guest lecturer on art herself.

I knew Hazel as an intermittent presence, a kind of benevolent shadow, hovering in the wings of my family life while growing up, ignorant of any of the notoriety that surrounded her. My father had told me that she was my godmother, and family stories abound. After he died and I started sorting through his papers, a tale began to unfold that had always captured my imagination: their brief marriage to one another in the early 1950s, before he met my mother.

Her letters, artworks, sketchbooks, photographs, essays, all painting a picture of an intriguing woman, who I remember as being warmhearted, generous, and loyal. As prolific and consistent in her letter writing as she was with her painting and sketching, she continued checking up on me, my father, even my mother, as well as other extended family members, until her death in 1995. Growing up, her unconventional attitudes and lifestyle epitomized for me a kind of free spirit ideal, that I now see captured in her paintings. Hazel did not have a conventional bone in her body.

Her eccentricities made her a larger than life figure, as did her humorous deadpan quips, which are gleefully recalled by those who knew her. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has had a Hazel bon mot to share. And without fail, they imitate her singular throaty Britishy whisper while doing so.

And that is how this project began. My goal is to gather enough additional material to eventually be able to write something about Hazel, beyond the gossip, and single faceted story of tragedy that she is most famous for. She was such a charismatic figure in her own right, as an artist and as a personality, and far more than just Peggy’s little sister. At a time when women were for the most part still expected to get married and raise children, she managed to carve out a singularly interesting life for herself, that was completely on her own terms.

Comments and any additional information about Hazel are most welcome.

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8 thoughts on “About Hazel

  1. Like her sister Peggy, Hazel was also a serious collector of modern art, especially during her years in Europe.
    Over the years her collection was sold, lost and given away. One great example, a large Improvisation by Kandinsky (her uncle Simon Guggenheim’s favorite artist), she gave to the Tate Gallery in London. Long a star of that museum, today it’s worth millions.

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  2. I recently discovered this article about Hazel McKinley and it brought back memories I have of my many encounters with Hazel. My earliest memories in the late 70’s are when I was a teenager living at my family house on Peniston St. in New Orleans. Hazel lived 5 blocks away. At that time my Godfather, John Hohnsbeen, was directly involved with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice during the last 10 years of Peggy’s life. Hazel had a habit of calling to talk to my mother, Shirley, very early in the mornings. As much as she tried, my mother was not able to break her of that habit. I was the one almost always answering the phone and during one of those phone calls waiting for my mother, Hazel struck up a conversation with me and then invited me to an upcoming party to meet who I think it was either a niece, a granddaughter or some other family member who was coming to town. Attending the party I quickly determined that I think she mistook me for my older brother. Being a teenager I found myself in a crowd of adults almost all in their late 20’s or older. It was a funny introduction into Hazel’s world. There were many times I would visit Hazel in the years to come. Almost always going through the gauntlet of being let in, signing the guest book and then waiting in the double parlor for Hazel to come in. She then would sit in her large chair next to the loud AC window unit and I would try to understand her soft, broken voice as we talked on many things in her past or the many questions she would ask about the newest news from John. In the years to come as I was working in a local Museum, Longue Vue House and Gardens, we had many art and especially Decorative Art related conversations. On one of my visits that would include having dinner with her there was a woman cooking in the kitchen. As dinner was served this woman joined us and I was introduced. She was the current Mrs. McKinley. She and her husband were in New Orleans for a horse racing event and Mr. McKinley had a heart attack and was then in the hospital. I was surprised at this revelation especially finding myself eating dinner with the 2 Mrs. McKinley’s but in many ways it was another of many sweet funny encounters I had with Hazel. There are also some that were odd but I will save those. It was a joy to have known her and I will always treasure my memories and my family’s close involvement with the Guggenheim sisters.

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    1. Thank you so much Scott for sharing your memories! I am always delighted to connect with anyone who has memories or stories about Hazel. I’ve also sent you a private message. If you’ve got the time, I would love to hear more!

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