Palazzo Non Finito: the unfinished palace and the extraordinary women who called it home.

A wooden preparatory model of the Palazzo Venier Dei Leoni, constructed in the mid-eighteenth century. The model is housed in the Museo Correr, a museum in San MarcoVenice, Courtesy Ethan Doyle White
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni today, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Courtesy Peter Haas

It became known in the neighbourhood as the palazzo non finito — the unfinished palace — and it might have been demolished, excised from history, but for the three women who came to inhabit it during the 20th century. They did so with a style and a sense of female entitlement unimaginable to its original, male owners.

– Judith Mackrell

Marchese Luisa Casati

Pearls with Luisa Casati by Adolf de Meyer, 1912, Archives Pictures Adolf de Meyer

“I want to be a living work of art.”

— The Marchesa Luisa Casati

During the first half of the twentieth century, the Marchesa Luisa Casati (1881-1957) was Europe’s most notorious celebrity. Her extravagant lifestyle, eccentric personality, and scandalous escapades captivated and inspired some of the most influential artists of her time. She was painted by Boldini and Augustus John, sketched by Drian and Alastair, and photographed by Man Ray and Cecil  Beaton, among others. Jean Cocteau praised her strange beauty; Jack Kerouac dedicated poems to her; Fortuny, Poiret, and Erte dressed her. She continues to inspire top designers today, including John Galliano and Karl Lagerfeld. – Scot D. Ryersson, Biographer

Explore the Casati Archive

Lady Doris Castlerosse

Doris Castlerosse outside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1936. From her private collection, Courtesy Stuffy Muffy

Lady Doris Castlerosse, a London socialite arrived with plans to transform the eccentric ruin into a smart cosmopolitan salon. Doris came from a background far less grand than Luisa’s, but she was beautiful, witty and sexually adventurous, and, having slept her way through English society, she fulfilled her ambition to marry a lord. That marriage was turbulent, however, and Doris was unwilling to lose her independence. During the early 1930s, her long list of lovers included Cecil Beaton and Winston Churchill, and as she approached middle age and her reputation began to sour, she looked to Venice as a city where she might relaunch herself. Her palazzo refurbished to a luxurious gloss, Doris embarked on what she imagined would be a new career as a Venetian salonnière. During her first summer in Venice, the parties she hosted numbered the young Prince Philip and the film star Douglas Fairbanks among the guests. – Judith Mackrell

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim with her dogs on the terrace of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, 1950, photo by David Seymour.

Peggy Guggenheim, a woman who provided a sanctuary, stage and promise to most prominent artists of the avant-garde movement until her death in 1979. Bohemian and ”socialite”, wife to Max Ernst and lover to Samuel Beckett, someone who was compared to Casanova and who discovered Jackson Pollock – Peggy Guggenheim’s story is almost as fascinating as those told in works of Braque, Picabia, Dalí, Magritte and others in her great collection of modern art. Vera Mevorah for Widewalls, May 14, 2017

View the Peggy Guggenheim Collection

Long Form Articles:

Unfinished Palazzo : Life, Love and Art in Venice: the Stories of Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim

Mackrell, Judith

ISBN 10: 0500518661 / ISBN 13: 9780500518663

Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati (Definitive Edition)

Scot D. Ryersson

Published by Ryersson, Scot D./ Yaccarino, Michael Orlando/ Crisp, Quentin (FRW) (2004)

ISBN 10: 0816645205 ISBN 13: 9780816645206

Confessions of an Art Addict

Guggenheim, Peggy

Published by HarperCollins (1997)

ISBN 10: 0880015764 ISBN 13: 9780880015769

Art Lover : A Biography of Peggy Guggenheim

Gill, Anton

Published by HarperCollins Publishers (2003)

ISBN 10: 006095681X ISBN 13: 9780060956813

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