Tag Archives: Architecture

Venice, the Last of Peggy Guggenheim’s Loves

“Living in Venice, or simply visiting it, means falling in love with it and leaving no room in your heart for anything else.” – Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim was a voracious lover of art, men and Venice. She lived in the city for over 30 years until her death, in 1979, at the age of 81. Her art collection and Venice home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, are the basis of The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. It’s noted as the most important collection, in Italy, of European and American art from the first half of the 20th century.


Peggy Guggenheim on her Venice terrace, wearing a Fortuny Delphos gown, 1950’s. Photo via: tumblr

While her appreciation for the art of her time is well-known, Peggy Guggenheim initially studied and enjoyed the classics, particularly Venetian Renaissance paintings. From her twenties onward, surrounded by a growing circle of avant-garde and bohemian writers and artists, she developed an astute knowledge of and keen eye for modern art.

“I took advice from none but the best. I listened, how I listened! That’s how I finally became my own expert.”

The majority of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection was put together over a period of ten years. From 1938 to 1940 in Europe, 1941 to 1946 in the United States and during her first two years back in Europe. She continued to collect art throughout her life. However, according to an article in the New Criterion, her later additions were less significant than her earlier ones.

Peggy Guggenheim also provided financial support to and extensively promoted a number of artists. It can be said that she launched the tragically all-too-short career of Jackson Pollock. When she first met him, he was struggling financially as an artist, holding down a day job as a carpenter for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The financial support she provided to Pollack allowed him the freedom to focus on his art.

via Pinterest

Peggy Guggenheim and Jackson Pollack 1943 in front of “Mural.”

Shortly after Peggy Guggenheim returned to Europe in 1946, she was invited to show her collection at the 24th La Biennale in Venice which took place in 1948. Presented were 136 pieces, covering the work of 73 artists, including Jackson Pollack, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst and Wassily Kandinsky.  This was the first time such an avant-garde body of work was permitted at the Biennale and a turning point for the acceptance of modern art in Italy.

Deciding to remain in Venice (choosing this beautiful city over all others), in 1949 Peggy Guggenheim purchased the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni from the heirs of Viscountess Castlerosse. The Viscountess, who died of an overdose at 42, was a London socialite who attracted the attention of Winston Churchill among others. Churchill was so taken with her that he painted her portrait in 1930. Born Doris Delevingne (and incidentally, Clara Delevingne’s great-aunt), she later modified her last name to de Lavigne,  She, like Peggy, was often the subject of gossip about her “scandalous” affairs. Prior to the Viscountess’s ownership, the palazzo had been the home of Marchessa Luisa Casati. The Marchessa and Peggy Guggenheim had some commonalities. Both became wealthy heiresses at a young age. Both were patrons of the arts, although perhaps the Marchessa was a tad more flamboyant. The Marchessa launched many artists’ careers through her patronage. She liked “the newest and most radical artistic terrains of the twentieth century.” (Source: marchesacasati.com).

The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni seems a fitting abode for these women who stood out from others during their lives. As the lone one-story palazzo, it stands out from the other structures on the Grand Canal.

Photo: Graeme Churchard

Photo: Graeme Churchard

Known as the “Maifinio” (never finished) in the Venetian dialect, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, dates from the mid-1700s. The architect, Lorzenzo Boschetti, intended it to be a grand three-story building. Only a small portion of the first floor was completed. The reason why the building was never finished remains a mystery. Some speculate there was battle between two prominent Venetian families, the Veniers and the Corners. The Veniers commissioned the home. The Corners owned the palazzo across the canal and did not want their grand home to be upstaged. So, they blocked further construction of the palazzo, claiming it would obstruct their view. Or, is the reason less intriguing? Others suggest that either money became tight or engineering issues got in the way. In any case, I found the home to be rather grand “as is.”

As for the “dei Leoni” reference in the palazzo’s name, there are 18 stone lions’ head sculptures at the base of the palazzo facing the canal. Legend has it that living lions were once kept in the garden.

Lion Close Up Original Photo Sue Elias

Photo: Sue Elias

The Marchessa Luisa Casati lived up to the legend. She kept pet cheetahs in the garden.

Marchessa Luisa Casati PInterest

Marchessa Luisa Casati with one of her pet cheetahs. Palazzo Veneri dei Leoni, 1912.

In 1951, after touring her collection around Europe for several years, Peggy Guggenheim installed it at the Palazzo dei Leoni.

She continued to support the Venice Biennale, making it a point to purchase something from every show. Artists, art critics, gallery owners and key collectors flocked to Venice during the each opening week (the tradition continues today) of the Biennale. Safe from the lions and cheetahs of past days, many were invited to the large cocktail parties Peggy held in her spacious garden to celebrate the start of the latest exhibition.

Her ever-growing art collection and artists-in-residence program took over the palazzo. At one point, she had plans drawn up to add a two-story modern gallery on the roof. The design was much in the style of Le Corbusier. The plans were abandoned, partially as she thought the proposed addition was ugly, partially because the addition would have cost sixty thousand dollars, only a bit less than the amount she paid for the palazzo. Instead, she converted the basement servants’ quarters into galleries and artists studios. Peggy Guggenheim also made space for the artists and new work by giving away large portions of her collection.

Her generous support of the arts also included holding salons in her home for art lovers and critics. The palazzo was also opened to the public three afternoons a week. The admission was free.

Her many and frequent house guests, caught off guard, were often still in their Pjs when the museum-goers came to the palazzo. During opening hours, Peggy would either escape to her roof-top terrace and sunbathe or glide off in her Gondola. I think it would be wonderful to lounge on that terrace.

via Pinterest

Initially, her entire home was accessible. Eventually, she closed off her bedroom to the public, only allowing friends and those who specifically requested a viewing to see it. Her bedroom, shown in the photo below, contained a spectacular silver bed-head made by Alexander Calder specifically for Peggy. The room was painted turquoise. Her extensive collection of earrings, accumulated from around the world, hung on her walls. The curtains were made from saris and the mirrors were elaborate Venetian designs. The room would fit in well with today’s boho décor themes.Peggy in Bedroom Palazzo Venier dei Leoni - Calder Bed-head

Peggy in Dining Room Palazzo Venier dei LeoniIn her dining room, Peggy combined Cubist artwork with a 15th century Venetian dining table and chairs. Seen behind Peggy is “Vita segreta” (Secret Life), a 1958 oil by the Venetian painter, Giuseppe Santamosa. Peggy met Santamosa shortly after arriving in Venice in 1946. They became close friends. It was through him that she was invited to show at the 1948 Biennale. You also see Brancusi’s sculpture “Maiastra” (Maestro). Peggy purchased it when she couldn’t get Brancusi to agree on a fair price for the “Bird in Space” sculpture that she coveted. “Bird in Space” was added to her collection soon afterward, weeks before German troops invaded Paris in June 1940. Both sculptures are in the Collection today, as is the dining room furniture.

In the next photo, she is seen adjusting Max Ernst’s “The Anti-pope.” Ernst painted it in New York shortly after fleeing Europe in the summer of 1941 (more about this Surrealist painting in my next post). Peggy in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni - The Anti-popePeggy is shown standing beside a pre-Columbian sculpture in the photo below. She began buying pre-Columbian pieces in 1958. It was her first visit back to New York in twelve years. Peggy in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni - Pre-ColumbianShe was “thunderstruck” to find how much the American art world had changed during over the years. Prices had sky-rocketed and people considered modern art a business investment.

“Only a few people really care for paintings. The rest buy them from snobbishness or to avoid taxation, presenting pictures to museums and being allowed to keep them until their death, a way of having your cake and eating it.”

By the 1960’s, Peggy had pretty well stopped collecting modern art.

“In fact, I do not like art today, I think it has gone to hell as a result of the financial attitude. People blame me for what is painted today because I had encouraged and helped this new movement to be born. I am not responsible. Eighteen years ago there was a pioneering spirit in America. A new art had to be born – Abstract Expressionism. I fostered it. I do not regret it. It produced Pollock, or rather Pollock produced it. This alone justifies my efforts. As to the others, I don’t know what got into them. Some people say that I got stuck. Maybe it’s true.”

With her home base and museum in place, she spent some time travelling, visiting Sri Lanka, India, Greece, Syria and other many other countries.

In her final years, Peggy Guggenheim withdrew somewhat from the world. Despite being ill, she would take a gondola ride through her beloved city each evening. After her death, an honorary dispensation was granted by the City of Venice allowing her ashes to be buried in her Venice garden near the graves of her pet dogs. The spot is marked with a simple plaque.

Resting Place | Photo Spiterman

Photo: Spiterman

Only weeks before she died, she wrote to a friend in New York about her museum,

“It is one of the most popular attractions in Venice, so at least I have achieved my great ambition.” (Source: Obituary in The New York Times, December 24, 1979).

She left her collection of over 260 artworks to The Solomon G. Guggenheim Foundation, an organization started by her uncle. There was one stipulation, the collection had to remain at the palazzo (or somewhere nearby should Venice sink) and intact. Her wishes have, for the most part, been respected. Pieces from the collection are however, loaned out to other museums for extended periods of time (years).

The Foundation has continued to add to the collection. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection remains one of the most popular attractions in Venice. Peggy Guggenheim left a wonderful legacy for the city which she loved above all others.



Additional sources: Confessions of an Art Addict (Kindle version) by Peggy Guggenheim, 1960, Vogue Italia and The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. Unless otherwise noted, photos were from Pinterest.

Venice, Through the Eyes and Words of…

Venice can readily be experienced from afar through the eyes and words of others; through incredible paintings, stunning photographs, entertaining films, classical and contemporary literature. This past spring, I experienced the vibrant, mysterious mood of Venice first hand.

Venice Aleksandra Ekster 1924

Venice Венеция,1924. Aleksandra Ekste (1882-1949)

It was a splurge trip, kept short to compensate. With just under 48 hours to spend in the city, my itinerary included strolling about the Piazza San Marco, taking in the Palazzo Ducale, Palazzo Fortuny, seeing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, and a visit to the Luigi Bevilacqua textile house. Venice Grand Canal

Within minutes of stepping off the Vaporetto, in search of my hotel, map in hand, I became lost. I knew that I had to take a left turn, it’s just that I was looking for a narrow street not a crevice.

I stayed at the Hotel Al Reali, choosing the hotel based on its location and positive reviews.  It’s only a few minutes walk (not including extra time allotted to taking wrong turns) from both the Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco.

The reviews reflected reality. My room, service and dinner at the hotel restaurant were top-notch. Architectural details of the 17th century palazzo are found throughout the small hotel. My room, was well-appointed, comfortable and spacious. Plus, it overlooked a canal. During a few minutes of downtime, I visited the cosy ground-floor library, perusing books about Venice’s history, architecture, art and artists. Venice Door and GondalierAfter checking in, I headed over to Piazza San Marco (along with a throng of other tourists making their way through the narrow, twisty lane ways). Over the centuries, many artists have painted scenes of the picturesque and historically significant square. The artworks enable us to step back into the Venice of yesterday. If you swap the Venetians seen in Gentile Bellini and Canaletto’s paintings below with modern-day global tourists, you could be looking at scenes from today.


Procession in St. Mark’s Square, 1496. Gentile Bellini (1429-1507)

Canaletto Piazza San Marco

St. Mark’s and the Clock Tower, Venice, c. 1735-1737. Canaletto (1697-1768)

Gentile Bellini  and Canaletto were both Venetian and both from families of prominent artists. Both were prolific artists of their times. Unfortunately, in 1577, a fire destroyed much of Bellini’s work. Canaletto’s actual name was Giovanni Antonio Canal. He became known as “little canal” to differentiate his artwork from that of his father. While Bellini was best known as a portraitist, many of Canaletto’s works depicted daily life in Venice. Wealthy British, many on their “Grand Tour,” snapped up Canaletto’s paintings almost as soon as the paint was dry.

Across the front of Basilica di San Marco are a series of domed alcoves. Each features brilliant gold and coloured mosaics. The one shown in the photo below, dating from 1660, is of the arrival of St. Mark’s remains in Venice.Venice Piazza San Marco Mosaics

Much of the ornamentation seen on the exterior of the Basilica di San Marco was acquired through invasions.

Gladiator Sculptures and Lion Bas-beliefVenice Basilica Roof LIne DomeThe bottom left photo is of the 4th century Roman porphyry sculpture called “Portrait of the Four Tetrarchs.”  The sculpture was likely looted from Constantinople in 1204 during the 4th Crusade. Tetrachs and Gate

Did you notice the white-coloured foot? A section of the original sculpture is missing. Archaeologists came across the missing foot in Istanbul during the 1960’s, giving substantiation to the looting theory. It’s now part of the Istanbul Archeology Museum’s collection.


The entryway, called Porta di Fiori, in the photo above is on the north-side of the Basilica. The Moorish architectural influences add a beautiful rhythm to the building. The nativity scene above the door is 13th century.

The four bronze horses shown in Sickert’s 1901 painting were sacked from Constantinople during the 4th Crusade. Some scholars believe they’re of 4th century Greek origin. Others, based on the high copper content of the statues, say they are Roman. Napoleon whisked them off to France in 1797 after invading Venice. They were later returned to Venice. However, what you see now on the basilica’s exterior are replicas. To protect the ancient bronzes from the elements, they are safely displayed inside. Venice Bronze Horses

A few dozen oohs and ahhs later, it was time to find a spot for dinner. Quite hungry, I opted for the convenience of the first available table that I came across. Surprisingly, given Venice’s reputation for high prices and poor service, my meal was affordable (at least relative to Swiss standards) and the service and food quality were reasonably good.

On day 2, I decided to visit the current art exhibition “Manet, Return to Venice” at the Palazzo Ducale instead of touring the palace buildings. Manet’s Grand Canal of Venice was one of the masterpieces on display.

Manet Grand Canal

The Grand Canal of Venice (Blue Venice), 1875. Edouard Manet (1832-1883)


Grand Canal in Venice, 1908. Claude Monet

Two other paintings of the grand canal (sadly not on display in Venice), Monet’s above and Turner’s, at the end of the post, are among my favourites. The soft blurring of colour and light in the paintings elegantly capture the grand beauty of the city.

After viewing the not-too-crowded Manet exhibit, I ate lunch on the terrace of a canal-side café. I enjoyed watching the gondolas glide by as I dined on house-made gnocchi served with fresh spring peas and a delicate white wine cream sauce. Watching the impressive manoeuvres required to lift a large refrigerator out of a boat across the canal had me wondering how if many deliveries land in the water and whether there is a retrieval service.

I spent the afternoon enjoying the contemporary artworks on display that The Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The collection is located in the low palazzo seen in the photo of Grand Canal below. You can read about my visit and Peggy Guggenheim’s connection to Venice here and here. Venice Grand Canal and Orthodox Church

My evening meal the hotel’s Alle Corrone restaurant was excellent. The restaurant offers seasonal Venetian cuisine.

Dinner was briefly interrupted by the sounds loud clanging at the canal-side door as hotel staff worked quickly to slide a metal barrier in place to guard against the rapidly rising water level in the canal. By the time dinner was over, the square leading to the the hotel was under about four inches of water. This is the acqua alta, or high water effect. The night manager said the water would continue to rise for a least another hour, partially due to the full moon. Venice High Water and Door Panel

Day 3 arrived all too quickly. I spent the morning at the Rialto Market. The liveliness and colours of the market warmed the chilly, rainy day.

Across the canal from the market is Ca’ D’Oro.  The palace’s lace-like loggia panels are reminiscent of the Alhambra’s Moorish architecture.

Ca D'Oro

William Merritt Chase painted Ca’ D’Oro in 1913. His painting is titled “Venice.”

Ca’ D’Oro, or Palazzo Santa Sofia, onstructed between 1428 and 1430, is now an art museum. Built for the Contarini family, one of the founding families of the Venetian Republic, the Venetian Gothic façade was once covered in gold leaf, thus the origin of the d’oro reference.

The world’s “most beautiful city” had humble beginnings as a series of scattered fishing settlements. In the 6th century AD, the area was a haven for Italian refugees, gradually expanding to become a major trading centre for exotic spices, sumptuous silks, precious jewels and metals from the East and South.

By the early 1500’s Venice’s craft guilds were known for their high-quality silks, beautiful brocades and velvet, exquisite gold work, glass work, including eye glasses, and armour. Wealthy Venetian merchant families built grand palaces and sponsored talented artists.

With Columbus’ arrival in the new world and Portugal’s discovery of a new ship route to India via Africa’s Cape Horn, Venice’s trade monopoly with the East ended, sliding the city into an economic decline. By the late 17th century, tourism became an important source of revenue for the Venetians,  with wealthy young men travelling to Venice while on their Grand Tour of Europe.

Today, some argue that the current level of  tourism, at 60,000 visitors per day, is harmful to the city, creating high environmental and social costs.


Before leaving Venice, I did venture into a tiny Bevilacqua shop, a treasure chest of exquisite silk upholstery textiles. Touring the Palazzo Fortuny is still on my wish list. As I learned all too late, it’s only open during special exhibitions.


Venice. William Turner (1775-1851)

Visiting Venice wasn’t on my bucket list. I’m glad I went. Mysterious, vibrant, proud and beautifully captured in the following poem by Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966).


Gold dovecote by waters,
Tender and dazzlingly green;
A salt-breeze sweeps away
The gondola’s narrow wake.

Such sensitive, strange eyes in the streets,
The bright toys in the shops:
A lion with a book, on a lace pillow,
A lion with a book, on a marble pillar.

As in an ancient, faded canvas,
The sky is a cool, dull blue…
But one’s not crushed in the crowd,
Nor stifled in this damp heat.

To further experience Venice through the eyes and words of others…

  • Photography books: Venice: City of Art, Serenissima: Venice in Winter, Francesco’s Venice: The Dramatic History of the World’s Most Beautiful City
  • Films shot in Venice: The Italian Job (2003), Bread & Tulips, (2000), Death in Venice (1971)
  • Some literature set in Venice: The Merchant of Venice, Death in Venice, Vaporetto 13, plus a lot more – this blog has an extensive list and provides reviews written by the blog author, Jeff Cotton.

Taking Refuge in Arles

Summer (and come to think of it, fall, winter, and spring) escapes are always wonderful. One summer trip that I took was to the south of France. I travelled with a long-time girlfriend. We’ve been friends for over 30 years (time goes by all too quickly) and this was the first time we had ever travelled together.

It was a leisurely vacation, taken at the start of the holiday season in Europe. Ignoring all the common sense warnings about booking hotels in advance, we made our travel plans daily. With only a few must-see places on our wish lists, we followed our whims and the recommendations of the very friendly locals and travellers from France whom we met here and there.

Our first overnight stay was in Annecy (the one and only pre-booked hotel). On the second night, we took refuge in Arles.

Arles Rue du Refuge L: Mine  R:Andrea Shaffer

Arles Rue du Refuge Photos L: Mine R:Andrea Shaffer

Below, is the view along Rue du Refuge, so very Arles-like. It’s a narrow cobblestone street, lined with row-houses having pale stucco walls and brightly painted shutters. Pots of bougainvillea greeted us with fragrant bursts of colour.Rue du Refuge faces the Amphitheatre.  Built in 90 AD by the Romans, the Amphitheatre’s design is similar to the Colosseum in Rome, a little smaller, with room for ONLY 20,000 spectators. When the Roman empire fell in the 5th century, the site became a shelter. Later, it contained houses and chapels. In the early 1800’s, they were torn down and the Amphitheatre was restored. More here.Arles France Ampitheatre We meandered through the streets, finding wonderful vistas around every corner. No events were going on at the Ampitheatre while we were in Arles. Since we weren’t dodging crowds (or bulls), our relatively slow pace allowed us time to catch up on each other’s lives.

Arles France Reattu

Arles Twisted Columns

Arles Street and Street Art

Photos: L:Katherine Hala, R: Mine

Arles Shutters Paired

While walking through the city, in search of a restaurant on our second night, we passed the Thermes de Constantine. Originally Roman public baths, now a Unesco World Heritage site, they date from the 4th century.

Roman Public Bath Ruins, ca 4th Century. Arles, France.

Roman Public Bath Ruins, ca 4th Century. Arles, France.

Arles has a vibrant arts culture. One of the annual highlights is The Rencontres d’Arles, a summer-long international photography festival. The works, including still photography and film, are exhibited in beautiful historic venues throughout the city, many of which are only accessible to the public during the festival. If you do have the opportunity to attend the photography exhibit, allow at least 2 days to take it in.

Also not to be missed, are the street art installations. While strolling the side-streets and alleyways we came across many gems. We met the adorable gentleman below by the Rhône. He was looking slightly lost, as he made his way to the doorway that led nowhere.

Arles Street Art Ruins Losing the Ice Cream

Actually, the door to nowhere led to a shaded courtyard. The shade compliments of a majestic plane tree. I liked how the tree was admiring its reflection in the window.Arles Plantain My girlfriend and I spent two days in Arles before carrying on with our travels. Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin spent nine weeks together in Arles

Van Gogh moved to Arles in early 1888. Later that year, in the studio that he named “The Yellow House,” Van Gogh took steps to set up his long hoped for artists’ colony. He envisioned a collaborative environment. In a letter to his brother Theo, dated May 1, 1888, Vincent lightly mentions Gauguin as a potential artist to join him at the studio. Six months later, after receiving many invitations from Van Gogh, Gauguin arrived at the studio. Below are images of the self-portraits which Van Gogh and Gauguin exchanged shortly before Gauguin’s arrival in Arles.  Arle Vincent Van Gogh Paul Gauguin - Self-portraitTheir studio “collaboration” ended abruptly with the infamous “ear” incident. There are two theories about what happened. The original one, suggests Van Gogh sliced off a piece of his ear in a fit. According to another, yet inconclusive theory, during a violent argument between Van Gogh and Gauguin, Gauguin sliced Van Gogh’s ear with his sword after being attached by Van Gogh. This alternative is based on 10 years of research undertaken by the German academics Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans. They dug through police records, letters written by the two artists and other documents, eventually writing the book “Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens” (title translates to “Van Gogh’s Ear: Paul Gauguin and the Pact of Silence”).

While Van Gogh and Gauguin’s weeks together in Arles were disagreeable (appropriately called a “Clash of the Titans” by writer Lyn Bolen Rushton in this article) and ended tumultuously, I am happy my friend and I did not meet the same fate. Our ears are intact and we are still friends. I hope to travel with her again in the future.


Additional Reading and Sources:

1. Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South, Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegers
2. Van Gogh’s Ear, Adam Gopnik for The New Yorker
3. Van Goghs Ohr: Paul Gauguin und der Pakt des Schweigens, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans (in German only)

Photographs: All by Sara Lynne Moffatt, with two exceptions. Right-hand photo of Rue du Refuge is by Andrea Schaffer.  Photo of the mother and child (left of the Bulls mural) is by Katherine Hala. Images of the paintings per the links.