The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice
Early in 1949 Peggy acquired the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, once known to Venetians as the "Palazzo Non Finito", located on the Grand Canal near the Basilica of the Salute.
The Venier family commissioned the Venetian architect Lorenzo Boschetti to build the palazzo, whose only other building in Venice is the church of San Barnaba. Construction of the palazzo began in 1749 and stopped at the basement and first floor. While the exact reasons for leaving the palazzo incomplete are unknown, it may have been due to a lack of funds. It is rumoured, however, that the Corner, a powerful Venetian family that lived in the opposite palazzo, were opposed to the construction of a building that would have exceeded their own in size and magnificence.
The Venier family, supposedly descended from the gens Aurelia of ancient Rome (which gave us the emperors Valeriano and Gallieno), were one of the oldest families of Venice. Included in their ranks were eighteen Procurators of San Marco and three Doges. Antonio Venier (Doge, 1382- 1400) had such a strong sense of justice that he left his own son to die in prison for having broken the law. Francesco Venier (Doge, 1553-56) is known to us from a superb portrait by Titian (Madrid, Fundacion Thyssen-Bornemisza). Sebastian Venier was commander of the Venetian fleet under Don John of Austria in the famous Battle of Lepanto (1571), later becoming a doge (1577-78). He is commemorated in a monument by Antonio del Zotto (1907) in the Basilica of SS. Giovanni e Paolo in Venice.
The spacious palazzo, often mistakenly considered modern, has one of the largest gardens in Venice. The word "Leoni" was later added to its name because of the stone lions incorporated in the base of the facade (according to legend, lions were once kept in the garden). The palazzo was the home of two notable women before Peggy moved there: from 1910 to around 1920, it belonged to the Marchesa Luisa Casati, muse to Gabriele D' Annunzio, hostess to the ballets russesand subject to some 200 portraits by various artists such as Boldini, Troubetzkoy, Man Ray and Augustus John. In 1937, it passed to the ownership of Doris Viscountess Castlerosse, who renovated it with marble bathrooms and a paved terrace.
When Peggy Guggenheim acquired the palazzo, she installed a marble throne in the garden where she often posed for photographers. Her bedroom, painted turquoise, overlooked the Grand Canal. Peggy hung her collection of earrings on the wall on either side of Alexander Calder's Silver Bedhead (winter 1945-1946), commissioned in New York. An assortment of Venetian mirrors, portraits by Franz von Lenbach, and Francis Bacon's Study for Chimpanzee (March 1957) were as well as collaged bottles by Laurence Vail added to the furnishing of her room. The east wing of the palazzo that held her bedroom also contained guest bedrooms, while the dining room, kitchen, living room and library were located at the other end of the narrow palace. Viewed from the Grand Canal the long, low facade of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, made of Istrian stone, is softened by the
trees growing in the garden behind, and is a pleasant caesura in the march of solemn palazzi from the Accademia Bridge to the Basilica of the Salute.