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The Unfinished Palazzo

Life, Love and Art in Venice

Judith Mackrell


The story of Venice’s Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, ‘the Unfinished Palazzo’, told through the lives of three of its most unconventional, passionate and fascinating residents – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim


Commissioned in 1750, the Palazzo Venier was planned as a testimony to the power and wealth of a great Venetian family, but the project was abandoned with only one storey complete. Empty and decaying, 'il palazzo non finito' was an eyesore for over a century until it came to be inhabited by the very different women whose stories are told in this gripping book.

Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim in turn used the Unfinished Palazzo as a stage on which to re-fashion her life, each making the building famous, or notorious, in her way. Their worlds of art and imagination boasted an amazing supporting cast, from D'Annunzio and Nijinsky, via Noël Coward, Winston Churchill and Cecil Beaton, to Yoko Ono.

The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her home an aesthete's fantasy and venue for parties as decadent as Renaissance court operas - spending small fortunes on her own costumes in her quest to become a 'living work of art' and muse to the artists of the late belle époque and early modernist eras. British socialite Doris Castlerosse (née Delevingne) made her mark in London and Venice during the hedonistic interwar years, hosting film stars and royalty at glittering parties. Jewish-American heiress Peggy Guggenheim turned the Palazzo into a model of modernist simplicity to house her exquisite collection of modern and surrealist art that today draws tourists and art-lovers from around the world.

A Herald Scotland Book of the Year

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'The best gallimaufry of gossip and scandal I have read in years'
Lynn Barber, Sunday Times

'Well researched, gloriously gossipy, a delightful, colourful story of reinvention and rebellion'

'Rip-roaringly entertaining stories of three fascinating women'
The Times

'I gorged on the decadence and drama'
Daily Telegraph

'Captivating, vivid and exquisitely gossipy … Stylish, sparky and packed with spicy anecdotes … my favourite kind of social history'
Literary Review

'Effortlessly evoking the spirits of three extraordinary women, [Mackrell] also captures the magical atmosphere of the house and city they each called home'
Country Life

'An ambitious epic … Mackrell treats her intrinsically sensational material with elegant restraint and wit. Her writing is sharp and unflinching … A rich, exhilarating read'
Sydney Morning Herald

Times Literary Supplement

'Very clever and entertaining … Mackrell recounts the lives of three wildly ambitious yet vulnerable women with page-turning pace and intelligence'

'A breathtaking social portrait, peeling the glitter from privileged lives even as it fleshes out the spectacle they created'
Washington Post

'Gossipy, revealing, terrifically entertaining … a Netflix series just waiting to be made'
Herald Scotland

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 408 pp

Illustrations: 114

Publication date: 1 June 2017

ISBN: 9780500518663

About the Author

Judith Mackrell is the Guardian’s dance critic and a successful author of biographical non-fiction titles, including Bloomsbury Ballerina: Lydia Lopokova, Imperial Dancer and Mrs John Maynard Keynes,which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award, and Flappers: Six Women of a Dangerous Generation, which combines the biographies of six women whose lives together encapsulated the history of the flapper era.