Venice: Ancient city of canals houses heiress’s collection of modern art

Blue glass sculptures created by Egidio Costantini, inspired by Picasso, are displayed in a window of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice.


By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 21, 2013

Those happy few Americans assigned to northern Italy are spoiled for choice in so many sensuous pleasures. None, however, is more splendid than Venice.

The world’s most beautiful, most romantic city, the destination dreamed of, where the light and water illuminate and soften beautiful ruins, is an hour or so from U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza and Aviano Air Base. One hour! Yet a world away.

I spent four days there in the late 1990s during a four-week European vacation. And since being assigned to Vicenza a month ago, I’ve also spent four days there. I think I might go every weekend.

The island city, once a powerful European republic, home to painters, poets and Casanova, overflows with tourists as well as tourist attractions, such as the Palazzo Ducale, home to the doges who ruled Venice for centuries, and the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon is said to have called “the living room of Europe.”

But it also has a vibrant contemporary art scene — and one of Europe’s premier museums of modern art of the first half of the 20th century, collected by a canny American heiress — and reputed female Casanova herself — in her palazzo on the Grand Canal.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection contains masterpieces ranging in style from cubism and surrealism to abstract expressionism, with artists such as Picasso, Braque, Dali, Pollock and Rothko. It’s refreshingly different from the Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance art in Italy’s infinite cathedrals and august museums.

I decided to go on a whim on a sunny Saturday. I know nothing about modern art, so I not only rented the audio guide, I lurked near knowledgeable people discussing the works, including an American in a baseball cap. He repeatedly quizzed two young children, apparently his grandchildren, about the abstract artworks in the sculpture garden. They never knew the right answers. We all learned a lot.

There was, in addition, a special exhibition of “The Avant-Gardes of Fin-de-Siècle Paris,” with some 100 paintings, drawings and prints by late 19th-century post-Impressionism artists whose art dealt in part with the turbulent time.

But Venice itself is a work of art. I’m looking forward to going this winter.

“In winter you wake up in this city, especially on Sundays, to the chiming of its innumerable bells, as though behind your gauze curtains a gigantic china teaset were vibrating on a silver tray in the pearl-gray sky,” wrote the poet Joseph Brodsky. “You fling the window open and the room is instantly flooded with this outer, peal-laden haze, which is part damp oxygen, part coffee and prayers.”


The Peggy Guggenheim Collection


The museum is located in the American heiress’s former home, the 18th-century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, between the Accademia Bridge and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute.

From Piazzale Roma or Ferrovia: Take the No. 2 line of the vaporetto public boat system, direction Lido, and get off at the Accademia stop. Or take the No. 1 line, direction Lido, and get off at the Accademia or Salute stops. From Piazza San Marco: take vaporetto No. 2, direction P. Roma, Accademia stop; vaporetto No. 1, direction P. Roma, Salute or Accademia stops.


Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Tuesdays and on Christmas.


Entry fees: Adults: 14 euros; students age 25 and younger: 8 euros (with current student ID); visitors older than age 65, 11 euros; children up to age 9 and members get in free. Tickets may be purchased online.


There is a cafe in the museum. But, of course, there is food everywhere you turn in Venice.


Phone: (+39) 041-2405-411; website: www.guggenheim-venice.it/inglese/default.html; email: info@ guggenheim-venice.it.

This Pablo Picasso, titled “On the Beach,” is from 1937.

This nude by Auguste Renoir is part of a special exhibition of post-Impressionist artists at the Peggy Guggenheim collection in Venice. Renoir, the exhibition explains, was known for "sensuous colors and dappled brushstrokes focused on the monumental and voluptuous female nude."

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