The Unfinished Palazzo
Mr B's review
Mr B’s Christmas Catalogue Review 2018
On Venice’s Grand Canal stands the iconic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (known as the Palazzo non finito as it remained a single storey building). Judith Mackrell explores its history through the lives of three C20 women who helped shape it. We drift from the eccentric and lavish balls of Luisa Casati, through the salons of Lady Doris Castlerosse to the stewardship of Peggy Guggenheim and the palazzo’s reincarnation as a museum of modern art.
Abandoned unfinished and left to rot on Venice’s Grand Canal, `il palazzo non finito’ was once an unloved guest among the aristocrats of Venetian architecture. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three passionate and unconventional women who would take the city by storm. The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle epoque aesthete’s fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse (nee Delevingne) welcomed film stars and royalty to glittering parties between the wars; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim amassed an exquisite collection of modern art, which today draws visitors from around the world.
Each in turn used the Unfinished Palazzo as a stage on which to re-fashion her life, with a dazzling supporting cast ranging from D’Annunzio and Nijinsky, through Noel Coward, Winston Churchill and Cecil Beaton, to Yoko Ono. Individually sensational and collectively remarkable, these stories of modern Venice tell us much about the ways women chose to live in the 20th century.
‘Fascinating’ – Lex News, France ‘A dazzling read’ – The Lady ‘Fascinating’ – Choice ‘Stylish, sparky and packed with spicy anecdotes’ – Miranda Seymour, Literary Review ‘I gorged on the decadence and drama’ – Helen Brown, Daily Telegraph ‘Very clever and entertaining … Mackrell recounts the lives of three wildly ambitious yet vulnerable women with page-turning pace and intelligence’ – Spectator ‘Well researched, gloriously gossipy, a delightful, colourful story of reinvention and rebellion’ – Observer ‘Rip-roaringly entertaining stories of three fascinating women’ – The Times