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Judith Mackrell brings to life the history of Venice’s mysterious and idiosyncratic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, “the Unfinished Palazzo,” through the lives of three of its most eccentric, passionate, and rule-breaking residents—Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim. Venice, 1750: The powerful Venier family commissions a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, on Judith Mackrell brings to life the history of Venice’s mysterious and idiosyncratic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, “the Unfinished Palazzo,” through the lives of three of its most eccentric, passionate, and rule-breaking residents—Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim. Venice, 1750: The powerful Venier family commissions a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, one they intend to cast a shadow on every other domestic building on its stretch of the canal. Yet the Republic of Venice—and the Venier family’s fortune—began to wane and the project was abandoned, with only one story completed. Luisa Casati. Doris Castlerosse. Peggy Guggenheim. These three women  inhabited the Palazzo at different periods, from the start of the twentieth century to the 1960s. Each came from a different country—an Italian, a Brit, and an American—but they had a surprising amount in common, above and beyond their ownership of the same extraordinary building. Amongst other things, all of them had scandalous lives, a passionate interest in art (although in the case of Luisa Casati, the subject had almost invariably to be herself), a fascination with sex, and a deep love of Venice. And, all surrounded themselves with an amazing supporting cast at so many glamorous parties, from D’Annunzio and Nijinsky, via Noel Coward and Cecil Beaton, to Yoko Ono amongst the Picassos. Mackrell weaves an intricate history of the Unfinished Palazzo, bringing it—and its legendary inhabitants—to life.


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Judith Mackrell brings to life the history of Venice’s mysterious and idiosyncratic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, “the Unfinished Palazzo,” through the lives of three of its most eccentric, passionate, and rule-breaking residents—Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim. Venice, 1750: The powerful Venier family commissions a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, on Judith Mackrell brings to life the history of Venice’s mysterious and idiosyncratic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, “the Unfinished Palazzo,” through the lives of three of its most eccentric, passionate, and rule-breaking residents—Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim. Venice, 1750: The powerful Venier family commissions a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, one they intend to cast a shadow on every other domestic building on its stretch of the canal. Yet the Republic of Venice—and the Venier family’s fortune—began to wane and the project was abandoned, with only one story completed. Luisa Casati. Doris Castlerosse. Peggy Guggenheim. These three women  inhabited the Palazzo at different periods, from the start of the twentieth century to the 1960s. Each came from a different country—an Italian, a Brit, and an American—but they had a surprising amount in common, above and beyond their ownership of the same extraordinary building. Amongst other things, all of them had scandalous lives, a passionate interest in art (although in the case of Luisa Casati, the subject had almost invariably to be herself), a fascination with sex, and a deep love of Venice. And, all surrounded themselves with an amazing supporting cast at so many glamorous parties, from D’Annunzio and Nijinsky, via Noel Coward and Cecil Beaton, to Yoko Ono amongst the Picassos. Mackrell weaves an intricate history of the Unfinished Palazzo, bringing it—and its legendary inhabitants—to life.

30 review for The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm. The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim am Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm. The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim amassed a collection of modern art that draws visits from around the world. This is an absolutely amazing book; in fact I am quite overwhelmed by it. The fact that three women during the 20th century could indeed have had such an impact on a palace previously owned by the Venier family when plans had been on hand to develop it to three floors. Whether finances were involved, or lack of an heir, is unknown but this never happened. All that was achieved was a single floor, two room deep palazzo. When Luisa Casati took over the palazzo on a rental basis in 1910, this would last fourteen years, but then she had to be evicted as it was finally sold in 1924. The palazzo was a ruin when she took it over, with ivy everywhere on the outside, and the only intact section was the waterfront terrace. She did very little to the exterior but she converted the inside and had the most amazing parties that everyone in Venice talked about. She wasn’t there all the year but when she was, everyone had their gaze fixed on the palazzo. Luisa’s mode in dressing was highly eccentric; she also had a menagerie of snakes, peacocks, a cheetah and albino birds which were painted to suit the occasion, and her personal dogs to name but a few. In fact she became so enamoured of her snakes that she often had one draped around her throat when she entertained. The most remarkable thing was that when she travelled to the United State for a visit, during the voyage her new snake escaped from its cage and rumour had it in third class that a young girl had been swallowed by a boa constrictor. Also when she strolled around Venice she had a cheetah, admittedly on a lead. She also had a faithful black servant, Garbi. There were many rumours involving Garbi especially as Luisa did not have her husband with her. Luisa also had many lovers but the most notable was the poet/historian Gabriele D’Annunzia. Their relationship was quite amazing as well as their correspondence when they were not together. I loved it all! And also the artist August John, another of her lovers. But the end of Luisa’s life was quite extraordinary. I confess I had to read the final sentence here several times. All in all what Luisa achieved was remarkable and it would prove to be the photographer Man Ray, who would capture the essence and soul of this remarkable woman in a photo. The second chatelaine, Doris Castlerosse, had been a girl from a south London suburb. She purchased the palazzo in 1936 and renovated all of it magnificently but although her parties were indeed famous, the war intervened in 1939 and she never returned. She had been looking for a title, even though having left the ranks of a shop girl and subsequently moving into the “professional mistress” status to help her financially. However, worried about getting older and losing her looks, she finally married the Irish Viscount Valentine Castlerosse. He adored Doris although it was not reciprocated and she continued to have many lovers throughout their marriage. I often wonder that whey did about birth control then or did they resort to abortions? They finally divorced but he continued to love her. Doris’ memorable affairs were with Randolph Churchill, as well as his father Winston Churchill, who surprisingly enough painted two portraits of her. I always thought that he and his wife Clementine were inseparable but this proved not to be the case. Regrettably the war intervened in 1939 and Doris went to the States and in the end it was due to Churchill that she managed to be repatriated from there to London. But out of all of these three remarkable women, Peggy Guggenheim was the most impressive; another woman who believed that her money would last forever. She was constantly distressed about her nose as she had “inherited” that from her grandfather. When she finally came of age in control of her finances, the first thing she did was to have plastic surgery but that was in its infancy and the surgery failed and had to be stopped. She never forgot about that. Nevertheless, when Peggy purchased the palazzo in 1948 she transformed it miraculously and created the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which still welcomes many thousands of visitors every year. The black and white images are superb and I could so easily go onto so many anecdotes about these three women. Suffice it to say, this work by Judith Mackrell is truly magnificent and I applaud her. I cannot even imagine the amount of time that she spent researching the wonderful book. Bravo! This is another one of those splendid books that one can just browse through from time to time as I like to do.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lesley Truffle

    The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice – commissioned in 1750 but left unfinished – owes its revival and fame to the three extraordinary women who bought the palazzo and lived there at different times in the 20th Century: Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. This true story is so strange, dramatic and engaging that sometimes it reads as fiction. However, the author thoroughly researched The Palazzo Venier. Judith Mackrell examined the State Archives of Venice and interviewed thos The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice – commissioned in 1750 but left unfinished – owes its revival and fame to the three extraordinary women who bought the palazzo and lived there at different times in the 20th Century: Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. This true story is so strange, dramatic and engaging that sometimes it reads as fiction. However, the author thoroughly researched The Palazzo Venier. Judith Mackrell examined the State Archives of Venice and interviewed those with connections to Casati, Castlerosse and Guggenheim. Mackrell also gained access to family papers and photographs, conducted many interviews and consulted academic works and bibliographies about the three women who bought and restored the derelict palazzo. ‘The Unfinished Palazzo’ comes alive with true tales of these unconventional women. We see the Italian heiress, Luisa Casati strolling the streets of Venice at night, semi-naked in her leopard skin coat, with her pet cheetah on a jewel-studded leash. Doris Castlerosse then overhauled the palazzo, while fighting bitterly with her brutal but wealthy husband. And when she died, Peggy Guggenheim took over, gutted the palazzo and eventually turned it into one of the most important modern art galleries in the world. Although they were from different eras, all three women had something in common: they loved beautiful things and were entranced by the unique lifestyle, freedom and exoticism of Venice. Luisa Casati’s parties, balls and dinners were the last word in decadence and she cultivated friendships with Europe’s most important creatives, writers and intellectuals. London socialite, Doris Castlerosse – who possessed no real wealth of her own – managed admirably by marrying into money. Doris was an acknowledged beauty with a penchant for seducing both heterosexual and homosexual men. In later life she became very close to a rich coal-mining heiress. It was common knowledge, at the time, that some of Doris's conquests were keen on protecting her and helping her maintain the luxurious lifestyle she was addicted to. Winston Churchill became one of her closest confidants. While Luisia Casati wanted to turn herself into a work of art, Penny Guggenheim inherited wealth and invested it in modern art. Along the way she also had a hell of a good time freely helping herself to several male artists, writers and creatives. For whatever Peggy wanted, she got. And the time I’d finished reading this highly engaging book, I too wished that I could live in cosseted luxury - on the Grand Canal, in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm. The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim am Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm. The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim amassed a collection of modern art that draws visits from around the world. This is an absolutely amazing and mesmerizing book; in fact I am quite overwhelmed by it. The fact that three women during the 20th century could indeed have had such an impact on a palace previously owned by the Venier family when plans had been on hand to develop it to three floors. Whether finances were involved, or lack of an heir, is unknown but this never happened. When Luisa Casati took the palazzo over on a rental basis in 1910, which lasted fourteen years, and then she had to be evicted as it was finally sold in 1920 and sold resold in1924. The palazzo was a ruin when she took it over, with ivy everywhere on the outside, and the only intact section was the waterfront terrace. She did very little to the exterior but she converted the inside and had the most amazing parties that everyone in Venice talked about. She wasn’t there all the year but when she was, everyone had their gaze on the palazzo. Her mode in dressing was highly eccentric; she also had a menagerie of snakes, peacocks, a cheetah and albino birds which were painted to suit the occasion, and her personal dogs to name but a few. In fact she became so enamoured of her snakes that she often had one draped around her throat when she entertained. The most remarkable thing was that when she went to the United States for a visit, her new snake escaped from its cage and rumour had it in third class that a young girl had been swallowed by a boa constrictor. Also when she strolled around Venice she had a cheetah, admittedly on a lead, either carried by her or her faithful black servant, Garbi. There were many rumours involving Garbi especially as Luisa did not have her husband with her. Luisa also had many lovers but the most notable was the poet/historian/war hero Gabriele D’Annunzio. Their relationship was quite amazing as well as their correspondence when they were not together. I loved it all! And also the artist August John. But the end of Luisa’s life was quite extraordinary. I confess I had to read the final sentence here several times. All in all what Luisa achieved was remarkable and the black and white images portray this so well, especially the photo taken by Man Ray who appeared to capture the essence and soul of this remarkable woman. The second chatelaine, Doris Castlerosse, had been a girl from a south London suburb. She purchased the palazzo in 1936 and renovated all of it magnificently but although her parties were indeed famous, the war intervened in 1939 and she never returned. She had been looking for a title, even though having left the ranks of a shop girl and subsequently moving into the “professional mistress” status to help her financially , worried about getting older and losing her looks, she finally married the Irish Viscount Valentine Castlerosse. He adored Doris although it was not reciprocated as she had many lovers. I often wonder that whey did about birth control then or did they resort to abortions? They finally divorced but he continued to love her. Doris’ memorable affairs were with Randolph Churchill, as well as his father Winston Churchill surprisingly enough who painted two portraits of her. I always thought that he and his wife Clementine were inseparable but this proved not to be the case. Regrettably the war intervened in 1939 and Doris went to the States and it was due to Churchill that she managed to be repatriated from there to London. But out of all of these three remarkable women, Peggy Guggenheim was the most impressive; another woman who believed that her money would last forever. She was constantly distressed about her nose as she had “inherited” that from her grandfather. When she finally came of age in control of her finances, the first thing she did was to have plastic surgery but that was in its infancy and the surgery failed and had to be stopped. She never forgot about that. Nevertheless, when Peggy purchased the palazzo in 1948 she transformed it miraculously and created the Peggy Guggenheim Collection which welcomes many thousands every year. The black and white images are superb and I could so easily go into so many anecdotes about these three women. Suffice it to say, this work by Judith Mackrell is truly magnificent and I applaud her. I cannot even imagine the amount of time that she spent researching this wonderful book. Bravo! Another one of those splendid books that one can just browse through whenever as I like to do.

  4. 4 out of 5

    SueKich

    Ladies who launch. Judith Mackrell tells the stories of three 20th century women who refused to be circumscribed by the comfortable circumstances of their birth, launching themselves into wider society as creatures of their own design. Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim were born into tremendous wealth but even the deeply middle-class Doris Castlerosse could easily have settled for a conventional existence. Instead, these women were not content to simply be ‘ladies who lunch’ and each of them used Ladies who launch. Judith Mackrell tells the stories of three 20th century women who refused to be circumscribed by the comfortable circumstances of their birth, launching themselves into wider society as creatures of their own design. Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim were born into tremendous wealth but even the deeply middle-class Doris Castlerosse could easily have settled for a conventional existence. Instead, these women were not content to simply be ‘ladies who lunch’ and each of them used the Palazzo Venier in Venice at some point in their lives to help them realise their ambitions. Luisa is perhaps the most contradictory character of the three: a curious blend of the desperately shy and the outrageously flamboyant, Luisa in this age would probably be considered on the spectrum. With her exotic garb, dangerous house pets and wild parties at the Palazzo, she saw herself as ‘a living work of art’. Doris was determined to land herself a lord. She slept her way into high society and is perhaps most famous for her suspected affair with Winston Churchill. (This is covered in Mary S Lovell’s The Riviera Set and if you liked that book, you’ll almost certainly like this one.) Peggy Guggenheim was part of the Manhattan’s Upper East Side Jewish elite, though at heart a Bohemian wannabe. When she bought the Palazzo in 1949, she transformed it from a half-finished shell into one of the most successful modern art museums in the world. These three women had no qualms about flouting the conventions of their day, be they sexual, sartorial or financial. They loved attention, they loved Venice but above all they loved themselves – or so their self-centredness would seem to indicate - and the Palazzo Venier on the Grand Canal was the perfect launching pad. The moral, if there is one, might well be: If you want to get ahead, get a gondola. This is a tremendously interesting read, flawlessly written and highly recommended.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Vicky Moon

    For anyone who has ever fallen in love with Venice and also been to the Guggenheim museum this is the only thing to read. One of the best books ever, not just on Venice, just magnificent. Hurry and read this one and fall in love all over again.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Clelixedda

    3.5 stars This book is difficult to rate. On the one hand, I actually enjoyed reading it - it’s written quite nicely, the topic is surprisingly interesting and it’s also educational (I did not know anything about either the palazzo or the three women beforehand and now have the feeling that I learned a lot). On the other hand, there are some things that bugged me. For one thing, just roughly 20% of the book are about the palazzo that inspired the book. This book is three biographies of three quit 3.5 stars This book is difficult to rate. On the one hand, I actually enjoyed reading it - it’s written quite nicely, the topic is surprisingly interesting and it’s also educational (I did not know anything about either the palazzo or the three women beforehand and now have the feeling that I learned a lot). On the other hand, there are some things that bugged me. For one thing, just roughly 20% of the book are about the palazzo that inspired the book. This book is three biographies of three quite similar women who all lived in the same house for some time, and as they had quite interesting lives also before and after living in this palazzo, there is not much of the book left to deal with the house itself. For another, the timelines of the biographies are sometimes quite muddled, with time jumps forward and backwards that are difficult to keep up with. Also, the author refers to almost every person with their given name only - so keeping up with all the who’s who was tricky as well. Furthermore, the book’s back promised that the stories of these three women would tell “a lot about how women chose to live in the 20th century”, but given the amount of privilege (and money!) these women had, this book can at most tell us how very rich women could choose to live in that time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kit

    I finally finished The Unfinished Palazzo. (Sorry.) I'm conflicted about this book. On one hand, it was incredibly interesting, on the other, I still was a bit bored while reading. It wasn't as fascinating to me as her previous book. On another hand, reading about these ladies being whoever they goddamn well pleased was empowering (even as they were terrible)! On the other other hand, some of the language around abuse suffered (especially by Peggy) was...disempowering, to say the least. It was di I finally finished The Unfinished Palazzo. (Sorry.) I'm conflicted about this book. On one hand, it was incredibly interesting, on the other, I still was a bit bored while reading. It wasn't as fascinating to me as her previous book. On another hand, reading about these ladies being whoever they goddamn well pleased was empowering (even as they were terrible)! On the other other hand, some of the language around abuse suffered (especially by Peggy) was...disempowering, to say the least. It was difficult to say if this was something the author herself believed, or if she was recounting something she thought the people she was discussing believed. So, conflicted. Three stars doesn't feel quite right, but four stars certainly doesn't. It'll be a three for now, anyway. Still looking forward to her next book!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    This book is a triple-layered macaroon, and I’m so glad I finished it on International Women’s Day! A glimpse into three eras of insanely rich women’s passions - and all the attendant wardrobe, interior design, and celebrity you could want. READ THIS BOOK!

  9. 5 out of 5

    John Kaye

    I understand the reasons for putting this book together: the three women who occupied the Palazzo Vernier, but perhaps too much was not about Venice and the palazzo itself. The three women are presented as all very self-obsessed, with complicated lives, and this comes across with approval. I'd wanted more about the building and its place in the way Venice worked. I got a bit bored with the "family life" of Peggy G. I understand the reasons for putting this book together: the three women who occupied the Palazzo Vernier, but perhaps too much was not about Venice and the palazzo itself. The three women are presented as all very self-obsessed, with complicated lives, and this comes across with approval. I'd wanted more about the building and its place in the way Venice worked. I got a bit bored with the "family life" of Peggy G.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    I will set aside two key thoughts in writing this review: First: Although the book is titled "The Unfinished Palazzo", the content of the book speaks very little to the palazzo itself and, indeed, the palazzo is completed by the second of the three women the book profiles. I understand that the lack of completion when bought by Luisa Casati, the first 20th century female owner profiled here, is what put the palazzo on its trajectory, but it is still an irksome title for the book. Second: The thr I will set aside two key thoughts in writing this review: First: Although the book is titled "The Unfinished Palazzo", the content of the book speaks very little to the palazzo itself and, indeed, the palazzo is completed by the second of the three women the book profiles. I understand that the lack of completion when bought by Luisa Casati, the first 20th century female owner profiled here, is what put the palazzo on its trajectory, but it is still an irksome title for the book. Second: The three women of focus are completely abhorrent, selfish and materialistic social climbers who are wholly unlikable. That said, I try not to conflate unlikable characters and a badly written book. That said, the book has several flaws that are hard to overlook. (1) The author makes conclusions about the health and psychiatric state of one of the women--the interjection makes a reader question the author's qualification to speculate on these areas: Mackrell is, afterall, a non-fiction writer and the dance critic for The Guardian. She is not a medical professional. It may be that medical professionals were consulted, but its disconcerting none-the-less. What's more, that type of leap toward a medical diagnosis doesn't really happen with any other figure identified in the book--whether primary or secondary. (2) The recounting of these biographies feels very tedious and clinical at times. The author could have cut out some of the affairs, or, at the very least, condensed them. This may have also helped with the pacing of the novel. (3) Somewhat of an extension of #2, the cadence of the novel makes it feel drawling. Understanding that biographies are difficult because you are dealing with the life (or, in this case lives) at hand, rather than a life in a fiction novel where you can create peaks and troughs, I would have liked to feel more rhythm in the stories. Peggy Guggenheim, for example, was frustratingly tedious. (4) It sometimes felt like the author was consulting a thesaurus; words were unnecessarily complex. What's more, the language felt bloated and, many times, full sentences or paragraphs could have easily been stripped out to make for a more enjoyable read. (5) There were several spots where the author hopped around in the chronology. I'm sure this was to group thoughts or behaviors, but, if that was the case, the intention was lost because it was jarring to be reading and then realize you were hurled back several years and you needed to reorient yourself in the subject's life. (6) The author takes several pieces of her own knowledge for granted. There are passages in other languages, for example, that she never bothers to translate into English for the reader--this feels especially odd, since the book was written first in English. Also, some historic figures are mentioned, but not much detail is given about them. I found myself bouncing between the book and the internet trying to do enough research on some obscure name mentioned thinking that it might be significant in the grand scheme of the story: sometimes it was, sometimes it was not. (7) To this reader, the author makes several projections about what each woman "may have" felt or done. She uses phrases that make it abundantly clear that there is no real evidence for some of the claims, including some affairs, behaviors, reactions, etc. Some passages start off: "One could imagine her...[doing something]." This is agitating and has the added misfortune of undercutting some of the other details of the profile: I found myself frequently asking: "well, how true is that?" (8) To help make the biographies feel like a more wholly accurate representation of the truth, I would have liked to have seen more excerpts from journals or letters in full, rather than four-to-five word snippets. This may have also helped with the cadence of the book. Overall, a reader can learn a fair amount from the book--even if he or she is required to supplement nuggets of information with additional research along the way. It's a good primer on early 20th century art. It also adds some alternative perspectives to WWI and WWII. The writer has clearly also done a great deal of research and enjoyed her subjects. I just wish the execution was better.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Verity W

    I started reading this after reading and enjoying the Riviera Set - a book where Doris Castlerosse played a minor role and realising that I had a book featuring her in a central role waiting to be read. And it was a bit of a mixed bag really. Luisa Casati is bonkers but not very engaging to read about, there's not really enough of Doris in it and the same for Peggy Guggenheim. I've read Mackrell's Flappers, which was a much more enjoyable and engaging read so this was a disappointment to me over I started reading this after reading and enjoying the Riviera Set - a book where Doris Castlerosse played a minor role and realising that I had a book featuring her in a central role waiting to be read. And it was a bit of a mixed bag really. Luisa Casati is bonkers but not very engaging to read about, there's not really enough of Doris in it and the same for Peggy Guggenheim. I've read Mackrell's Flappers, which was a much more enjoyable and engaging read so this was a disappointment to me over all. The timeline felt muddled - I wasn't always sure when we were in history and I think it managed to have both too much detail about some things and too little. The house, which was meant to be at the centre of this, didn't really feature as much as I expected and yet there wasn't enough about the women either. Peggy Guggenheim seems likea total nightamre - but I'd happily read more about her and I feel like I learned as much (may be more) about Doris in the Riviera Set as I did in this. Interesting to read, but not as satisfying as you want it to be.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Terry

    My interest in this book was piqued when I saw a review if it somewhere, accompanied by a picture of Peggy Guggenheim reposing in the sun on the roof of the palazzo. I was not to be disappointed. What an incredible story! Three remarkable women inhabited and redecorated this unfinished building, started in 1750 by the prominent Venier family of Venice who subsequently ran out of money and had to abandon it. For a time, it simply fell into decay; only one storey had been completed and it was seen My interest in this book was piqued when I saw a review if it somewhere, accompanied by a picture of Peggy Guggenheim reposing in the sun on the roof of the palazzo. I was not to be disappointed. What an incredible story! Three remarkable women inhabited and redecorated this unfinished building, started in 1750 by the prominent Venier family of Venice who subsequently ran out of money and had to abandon it. For a time, it simply fell into decay; only one storey had been completed and it was seen simply as an eyesore. However, when Luisa Casati saw it, she had to have it. Casati was a wealthy Italian from Milan, who had married Camillo, Marchese Casati Stampa di Soncino, in 1910. According to Mackrell, she started life as an extremely introverted child with a strong social phobia, which she managed to overcome and ended up holding legendary soirées attended by a Who’s Who of the world of arts and letters. Casati was, actually, one of the twentieth century’s earliest celebrities. She dressed in the high fashion of designers Fortuny and Poiret and had her portrait painted, often, by prominent artists, including Augustus John. She hosted Diaghilev, Nijinsky and the Ballets Russes and was photographed by Man Ray. She loved to cultivate an eccentric persona, keeping a small menagerie which included a leashed cheetah and a snake, which she wore draped around her shoulders like a stole. Casati also maintained a long-term relationship with the Italian proto-fascist writer and war hero, Gabriele D’Annunzio. Casati also lived for a time on the island of Capri, which was then (1919-20) the home of an assorted bunch of gay and lesbian artists and writers, including painter Romaine Brooks, who painted her portrait and had something of an affair with her. Compton Mackenzie wrote about her life there in his diaries. Eventually, Casati’s extravagant lifestyle caught up with her and she had to flee to England to evade creditors. She lived quietly, in extremely reduced circumstances, her valuable possessions having been auctioned off to pay her debts. She died in 1957. The palazzo’s next hostess was an equally colourful personality – though for my money, far less interesting. Doris, Lady Castlerosse, only married her husband Valentine, for his title; they divorced with no issue in 1938. She was the owner of the palazzo through the 1930s and she, too, redecorated it and held parties frequented by the notables of the day, who included society photographer Cecil Beaton and playwright Noel Coward. She also enjoyed an ongoing affair with Winston Churchill, who seemed to have remained a friend. However, Doris’s habit of sleeping with anyone she could find who would fund her extravagant lifestyle reduced one contemporary to describing her as “‘a common little demi-mondaine”; effectively, a high-class whore. She was given to coarse language and fighting with her husband in public; this sort of behaviour caused her to “outstay her welcome in Mayfair”. She moved to New York for two years, but, then in her forties, found it much more difficult to find and use wealthy men for her living expenses. Eventually, she was reduced to illegally selling off her diamonds to fund a return trip to England. Arriving there, she had to endure pointed comments about people who leave their country in times of war. Depressed and financially embarrassed, Doris took to drink. One night, probably accidentally, she also took too many sedatives and ended her life. The palazzo’s final owner was Peggy Guggenheim, niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, who would establish the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation. Her father, Benjamin Guggenheim, was lost at sea on the Titanic in 1912. Peggy began to mix in avant-garde art circles and lived in Paris in the 1920s, meeting many of the luminaries of the day such as Jean Cocteau and the lesbian hostess Natalie Clifford Barney, at whose famous Paris salon mingled the most prominent representatives of the arts of those days. Peggy became close friends with Barney and her lover, Romaine Brooks and also befriended Djuna Barnes, whose novel Nightwood was written at Peggy’s rented house, Hayford Hall, in Devon. Despite knowing many gays and lesbians, it seems Peggy remained straight. Peggy’s first art venture was a gallery she opened in London and called Guggenheim Jeune. In several exhibitions, this gallery featured the work of Jean Cocteau, Wassily Kandinsky, Yves Tanguy, Antoine Pevsner, Henry Moore, Henri Laurens, Alexander Calder, Raymond Duchamp-Villon, Constantin Brâncuși, Jean Arp, Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Kurt Schwitters. Marcel Duchamp also contributed invaluable help. However, when the gallery made a loss, she reluctantly closed it, planning to relocate to New York. The outbreak of war changed her plans and she went to Paris, where she discovered that the art market was in free-fall, as fleeing collectors and artists were trying to sell off their works. Peggy bought everything she could, amassing the great collection that would find its way to Venice. Although she went to New York after the war and came to know the new modern American artists such as Jackson Pollock, she eventually relocated to the Palazzo Venier in 1949, establishing her collection there. This became the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, maintained now as a museum. All three of these women had healthy sexual appetites, with the possible exception of Luisa Casati, who managed to string D’Annunzio along by being tantalisingly evasive. D’Annunzio was a womaniser and there was always another mistress in the background, but Casati contributed mystique and intrigue; he nicknamed her “Kore”, one of the names of Persephone, the bride of Hades in Greek myth. Castlerosse’s main asset was her physical beauty, evidenced in some photographs reproduced in this book. At first she had no trouble snaring wealthy men, but, as she aged, this asset lost its strength. She performed no acts of charity or benefit to society. The only reason to remember her seems to be that she was the great-aunt of contemporary model Cara Delevigne! The winner – apart from the palazzo, which now has a distinguished identity – was Peggy Guggenheim. Her great legacy lives after her, a solid contribution to Venice and the art world.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Therese

    Much as I love Venice, and though I have been several times to the Guggenheim Collection, I cannot rate this book higher than two stars. I had some slight sympathy for Lusia Casati, but none at all for Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. All three women were self-obsessed, though if Luisa had Asperger's Syndrome there may have been an excuse for her. Doris used her feminine wiles to wend her gold-digging way into the Castlerosse title. Casati was born into immense wealth and squandered a maj Much as I love Venice, and though I have been several times to the Guggenheim Collection, I cannot rate this book higher than two stars. I had some slight sympathy for Lusia Casati, but none at all for Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. All three women were self-obsessed, though if Luisa had Asperger's Syndrome there may have been an excuse for her. Doris used her feminine wiles to wend her gold-digging way into the Castlerosse title. Casati was born into immense wealth and squandered a major portion of it on presenting herself as a work of art, hosting outlandisly costly parties while wearing expensive gowns specially designed for each event. Guggenheim was the true monster. She more or less abandoned her children to a former partner and his spouse. She had a whim of iron, starting galleries before moving on to the next new thing. She rented or bought houses at the drop of a hat. She was sexually promiscuous, yet worried that men loved her only for her money, then drowned them in lavish life-styles. Guggenheim at least left an astonishing art collection behind. But it was little comfort to her son and daughter. It was interesting to read about the contemporaries of these women, the poets, writers, artists and ballet masters, as well as the predictable Euro-trash or American and British hangers-on.

  14. 4 out of 5

    John Spiller

    I was initially drawn to the book because I had passing familiarity with Peggy Guggenheim and wanted to know more about her. "The Unfinished Palazzo" easily met my expectations in that regard. The stories of Luisa Casati, though, were a revelation and likewise worth the price of admission. This is a five-star book for the right reader. Several of the reviewers below have done a much better job than I could ever do providing an overview of the contents of this book. I will not repeat what has bee I was initially drawn to the book because I had passing familiarity with Peggy Guggenheim and wanted to know more about her. "The Unfinished Palazzo" easily met my expectations in that regard. The stories of Luisa Casati, though, were a revelation and likewise worth the price of admission. This is a five-star book for the right reader. Several of the reviewers below have done a much better job than I could ever do providing an overview of the contents of this book. I will not repeat what has been more ably said below. If the brief summaries of "The Unfinished Palazzo" sound even vaguely interesting to you, then this book will not disappoint. Mackrell is a masterful writer and her command of source material is bravura. With a lesser author, the stories of Luisa, Doris, and Peggy could have devolved into sensationalism or even worse, hagiography where these singular women are cast as archetypes of "strong" women. Yes, each of these women are remarkable and singular. But Mackrell does not shy from calling them out for their selfish and reprehensible behavior. On the other hand, she takes pains to note that their failings were not so different from their male counterparts for whom such failings were overlooked. In the words of James Brown, they used what they had to get what they wanted.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    This was an interesting read. For many years the palazzo dei Leonie stood empty and abandoned. But at the turn of the 20th century it was re-discovered. During this century 3 women would make it their home at a time of crisis in their lives and achieve a measure of happiness here. Luisa Cassati Doris Castlerose and Peggy Gugginheim all made it their home.Indeed Peggy transformed it into the now famous Gugginheim museum. A fascinating account of a building and the lives of the 3 women who lived h This was an interesting read. For many years the palazzo dei Leonie stood empty and abandoned. But at the turn of the 20th century it was re-discovered. During this century 3 women would make it their home at a time of crisis in their lives and achieve a measure of happiness here. Luisa Cassati Doris Castlerose and Peggy Gugginheim all made it their home.Indeed Peggy transformed it into the now famous Gugginheim museum. A fascinating account of a building and the lives of the 3 women who lived here.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    THE UNFINISHED PALAZZO, Judith Mackrell, ITALY, Venice, 1900ff Interesting was reading about the Palazzo dei Leoni as a piece of architecture. However, through no fault of the author's, the women who inhabited the iconic palazzo were made of the same cloth. I got tired of reading about illicit, innumerable affairs, unhappy marriages, dysfunctional families...that characterized these wealthy, privileged women. The beauty of the palazzo was tarnished by those who resided there. THE UNFINISHED PALAZZO, Judith Mackrell, ITALY, Venice, 1900ff Interesting was reading about the Palazzo dei Leoni as a piece of architecture. However, through no fault of the author's, the women who inhabited the iconic palazzo were made of the same cloth. I got tired of reading about illicit, innumerable affairs, unhappy marriages, dysfunctional families...that characterized these wealthy, privileged women. The beauty of the palazzo was tarnished by those who resided there.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Abelirapp

    Wish that I could have rated this book higher. Not enough info on the Palazzo Vernier. Nothing really new on the Marchesa Casati or Peggy Guggenheim. Did not know much about Doris, Lady Castlerosse. But there was not much of the tie-in with each of the women. Especially when you get to page 341 and she casually mentions that the Palazzo in is located next to the site of the old Palazzo Vernier. Where was that history? This book should not have cost $35.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Stella

    Listened to the audiobook. This is another one of those books seemingly about a topic (here, the unfinished Venice palazzo) which can be - and is - dispensed with in about 40 pages, after which the book moves to something completely different (here, three notable women who lived in the palazzo at one time or other). That being said, I enjoyed learning about three very interesting women in a very unusual historic setting. But it wasn’t one of my favorite reads.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Annie Garvey

    I read this book in a day . . . couldn't put it down. Mackrell does a great job of weaving the characters lives through the narrative. I read this book in a day . . . couldn't put it down. Mackrell does a great job of weaving the characters lives through the narrative.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    When I was in Venice I read Peggy Guggenheim's memoir, Art of this Century, and on returning home, the biography by Mary Deaborn. But I knew very little about the previous owners of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Marchesa Luisa Casati and Lady Doris Castlerosse until I went to a lecture at the NSW Art Gallery on sex, love and death in Venice earlier this year. All three women were notorious for their outrageous parties and infidelities although Casati and Castlerosse were more profligate in their When I was in Venice I read Peggy Guggenheim's memoir, Art of this Century, and on returning home, the biography by Mary Deaborn. But I knew very little about the previous owners of the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, Marchesa Luisa Casati and Lady Doris Castlerosse until I went to a lecture at the NSW Art Gallery on sex, love and death in Venice earlier this year. All three women were notorious for their outrageous parties and infidelities although Casati and Castlerosse were more profligate in their spending Guggenheim who had even been accused of miserliness. Luisa Casati resided at the palazzo at the turn of 20th Century. She cut an extraordinary figure, wearing only a fur coat, and sometimes a boa constrictor, while she took her pet cheetah for a walk in the San Marco plaza. Her parties which were attended by people such as Diaghalev and Cocteau, were more of a spectacle, with white ravens dyed to match the theme. Doris Castlerosse, whose life is recounted in the smallest section of the book, took occupation of the palazzo in 1938. She included among her guests luminaries such as Ivor Novello, Coco Chanel, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence, and other "Bright Young Things". Cecil Beaton, despite his homosexuality, was reputed to be in love with her and photographed her numerous times while she was known to have an affair with Winston Churchill as well as his son, Randolph. Both Casati and Castlerosse left Venice and the palazzo when their money ran out, only to die in circumstances very different from their former lives. One of the fascinating aspects of this book, and which could have been emphasised in more detail, is the way that the lives of these women intersected quite serendipitously, for example, Gerald Tyrwhitt (Lord Berners) the composer, artist and aesthete. Although this book is divided into three sections, with each devoted to one of the women, the biggest slice is given to Guggenheim. Perhaps this is because there are more primary sources as well as secondary about her life, but certainly not because she was any more outrageous or interesting than the others. A great read for sticky-beaks who like to snoop on the lives of others and witness their frailities.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Stormy

    If you don’t know Venice, or if you are a naive tourist (as I was in 2008), this palace looks like a remnant from the Renaissance. In fact, it was commissioned in 1750 by the Venier family. The foundations were laid for the largest palazzo to be built along the Grand Canal and when finished, was to be more than twice as wide as any other and was planned to have four stories of marble floors, columns, carved lions, gilding...and more. The foundations were laid but the area was marshy even by Vene If you don’t know Venice, or if you are a naive tourist (as I was in 2008), this palace looks like a remnant from the Renaissance. In fact, it was commissioned in 1750 by the Venier family. The foundations were laid for the largest palazzo to be built along the Grand Canal and when finished, was to be more than twice as wide as any other and was planned to have four stories of marble floors, columns, carved lions, gilding...and more. The foundations were laid but the area was marshy even by Venetian standards and construction abruptly stopped after the first story and three pillars of the future grand entrance were built. Jutting from the canal-side base were eight stone lion heads, “their mouths carved in identically regal snarls.” The project languished and the Veniers’ fortunes had a permanent downturn toward the end of the 18th century. So the ‘Palazzo dei Leoni’ became known as ‘il palazzo non finito’ for the next 100 years. Now the story becomes more interesting. Three remarkable women each bought, partially renovated, and lived in this remarkable ruin: Italian Marquesa Luisa Casati, British call-girl Entrepreneur Doris Castlerosse, and American art collector Peggy Guggenheim. They all had strong, independent personalities and lots of wealth to sink into the edifice and gardens. Their stories are so different and yet merge into this one place where they expressed their lives. When I visited the palace ten years ago, I only knew about Peggy and her incredible modern art collection. I wish I had also known about Luisa, who lived in the palace with her exotic pets, lovers, seances, and servants. Her beauty and her costume parties are legendary. So much history, so little time!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Denise

    This is a door into a world of wealth and eccentricity. Luisa Casati is the first woman to be investigated in this book. Her friendships and attitudes to life are eye opening. She lived as an artwork, the Venetian palazzo a backdrop to her vision. This was fascinating and led me to further research on Casati. Next Doris Castlerosse, a woman who shocked with her liberal attitude to love. Her life touched many famous people including Churchill. Venice was her party city. She gathered film stars an This is a door into a world of wealth and eccentricity. Luisa Casati is the first woman to be investigated in this book. Her friendships and attitudes to life are eye opening. She lived as an artwork, the Venetian palazzo a backdrop to her vision. This was fascinating and led me to further research on Casati. Next Doris Castlerosse, a woman who shocked with her liberal attitude to love. Her life touched many famous people including Churchill. Venice was her party city. She gathered film stars and celebrities to the villa. Finally, Peggy Guggenheim, the last chatelaine of the palazzo. As she gathered artworks, met and married her way through her life, Venice became home In a troubled world. This book has introduced me to some intriguing women. So why not give stars?Occasionally I felt the author told us feelings and extrapolated things from the lives which were opinion. However, if you want to step into a world beyond anything most of us will ever experience, then read this. And dream of walking a cheetah around the streets of Venice!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Leni

    I picked it up originally because I love Venice with all my heart and was particularly interested in its history of the 20th century, as I did not know much about that part of its history. However, while I did enjoy that this book gave me a relatively compact yet extensive overview over the social history of the 20th century in general, I dearly missed Venice during large parts of it. But then again it is mostly about the three women themselves, so that is simply personal preference. I found it I picked it up originally because I love Venice with all my heart and was particularly interested in its history of the 20th century, as I did not know much about that part of its history. However, while I did enjoy that this book gave me a relatively compact yet extensive overview over the social history of the 20th century in general, I dearly missed Venice during large parts of it. But then again it is mostly about the three women themselves, so that is simply personal preference. I found it very well written overall, there were however some uses of words that seemed rather careless to me and some parts (particularly deaths?) were handled pretty apruptly and without much care. For example Doris' death confused me greatly and came with absolutely no warning but was also not handled with much feeling, in my opinion. I'm not entirely sure whether I appreciate Mackrell's writing style. But despite all of this I greatly enjoyed the read and am very happy that someone took the time to research these lives so throughly and carefully. Thank you!

  24. 4 out of 5

    C

    I'm really glad I stuck with this - the Peggy chapters at the end are the best ones! Luisa sounds interesting when you hear a little about her, but she's so unrelatable that it's hard to sit through over a hundred pages about her. Doris seems to have had a interesting life, but this book laregly skips over it because little of it was lived in Venice. I don't understand the hate for Peggy in some reviews, I found her very sympathetic (inspiring even!) as well as fascinating (even though she was a t I'm really glad I stuck with this - the Peggy chapters at the end are the best ones! Luisa sounds interesting when you hear a little about her, but she's so unrelatable that it's hard to sit through over a hundred pages about her. Doris seems to have had a interesting life, but this book laregly skips over it because little of it was lived in Venice. I don't understand the hate for Peggy in some reviews, I found her very sympathetic (inspiring even!) as well as fascinating (even though she was a terrible parent - that's not okay, but many of the Great Men were terrible parents and they don't get so much hate for it!). Peggy contributed so much to the world, by founding a great museum and by pretty much launching Jackson Pollock's career, despite her insecurities and her surprisingly modest inheritance. There's not actually much about Venice and the palazzo in the book, but it's still got me very excited about my upcoming trip to Venice!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Simon Bate

    This book tells the stories of three fascinating women drawn together by the conceit of them passing some of their lives in Venice at 'The Unfinished Palazzo.'...Most of their lives however were spent elsewhere and the settings presented here are more often than not in Paris, London, New York and Rome; not that this is a bad thing.The ladies meet interesting people, sleep with them and enjoy the privileges of wealth, are totally self centred and are fairly indifferent to their progeny. I was a This book tells the stories of three fascinating women drawn together by the conceit of them passing some of their lives in Venice at 'The Unfinished Palazzo.'...Most of their lives however were spent elsewhere and the settings presented here are more often than not in Paris, London, New York and Rome; not that this is a bad thing.The ladies meet interesting people, sleep with them and enjoy the privileges of wealth, are totally self centred and are fairly indifferent to their progeny. I was a little irritated that throughout the book there were references to paintings and photos but these were not reproduced...however all in all a good read that added extra insights into who knew whom in the complex relationships of 20th century art...

  26. 5 out of 5

    Patricia Boksa

    I quite enjoyed this book. Rather than a book about a palazzo, it was essentially three short biographies about three quite fascinating privileged women who were socialites of their time (1913-1979), into art and living a life in the public eye. This author knows how to write an interesting biography, focusing on the main interesting arc of the subject's life (and not muddying the story with her knowledge of irrelevant trivia, as in another book I recently tried to read but couldn't: "The Lady i I quite enjoyed this book. Rather than a book about a palazzo, it was essentially three short biographies about three quite fascinating privileged women who were socialites of their time (1913-1979), into art and living a life in the public eye. This author knows how to write an interesting biography, focusing on the main interesting arc of the subject's life (and not muddying the story with her knowledge of irrelevant trivia, as in another book I recently tried to read but couldn't: "The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer" by Anne-Marie O'Connor).

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emilie

    Absolutely mesmerised by these three womens’ unyielding quest for acceptance and finding their sense of self through lavish expenditure and self-destructive behaviour. Total narcissism at its best, but what a legacy to behold. They were the influencers and divas of their time, constantly re-inventing themselves, yet clueless as to how to gain fulfilment. We owe so much to Peggy’s foundation, which makes it difficult to criticise her life choices, but her neglect towards her children is hard to b Absolutely mesmerised by these three womens’ unyielding quest for acceptance and finding their sense of self through lavish expenditure and self-destructive behaviour. Total narcissism at its best, but what a legacy to behold. They were the influencers and divas of their time, constantly re-inventing themselves, yet clueless as to how to gain fulfilment. We owe so much to Peggy’s foundation, which makes it difficult to criticise her life choices, but her neglect towards her children is hard to bear.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz Pardey

    Fascinating detail, three fascinating women who each bought this palazzo in Venice. I wish there had been more pictures, plans, details of the actually palazzo but what isn't there isn't there. It does seem to have been a bit of a fatal attraction -- although all three women were renowned in their time, none of them had what could be called a happy, fulfilled life. It ended badly for them all though the palazzo lives on as the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice. Fascinating detail, three fascinating women who each bought this palazzo in Venice. I wish there had been more pictures, plans, details of the actually palazzo but what isn't there isn't there. It does seem to have been a bit of a fatal attraction -- although all three women were renowned in their time, none of them had what could be called a happy, fulfilled life. It ended badly for them all though the palazzo lives on as the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Louise Halliday

    Three thoroughly absorbing mini biographies of three fascinating women, all of whom were resident at the unfinished palazzo and all of whom made it an extension of their own personality. Luisa Casata, a human work of art, Doris Castlerosse whose tempestuous love life was the stuff of legend, and Peggy Guggenheim who carved out a niche for herself as an art aficionado despite crippling struggles with self esteem. Venice provides a suitably dramatic backdrop for these extraordinary lives.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

    Very interesting account of the lives of three women who owned the Palazzo Venier in Venice in the 20th century. The extremely strange Luisa Casati turned herself into a work of art, Doris Castlerosse had slightly less impact but Peggy Guggenheim created an amazing collection of modern art. The book almost amounted to an overview of 20th century art from surrealists to modernists seen through the eyes of these three women. An absorbing and lively read.

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