The Peggy Guggenheim Collection rates very high on the list of things to see and do in Venice. Since we were already in the neighbourhood, we decided to make it our next stop.
Peggy Guggenheim inherited a substantial sum of money at a relatively young age, after her father Ben, (the brother of the more famous and wealthier Solomon R.) died in the sinking of the Titanic. Guided by accomplished artists and collectors, including her first husband Lawrence Vail and her third husband Max Ernst, Peggy was able to amass a large collection of abstract and surrealist art. She also sponsored budding artists, even providing the troubled American painter Jackson Pollock with a monthly stipend to support his painting. Peggy and her collection spent time in London, Paris and New York before finding a permanent home in the elaborate Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Venice's Grand Canal, where Peggy lived for thirty years. The palazzo and the Collection are now owned and operated by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.
We enjoyed our visit to the museum, but I'm not sure whether I agree with its high placement on the lists of things to do in Venice. In fairness, this may be partly because I've always found abstract art difficult to appreciate. During visits to Canada's National Gallery, I've frequently wondered whether some of the abstract pieces benefit from a sort of "Emperor's New Clothes" phenomenon -if an avant-garde art expert has proclaimed a red dot to be a masterpiece, who am I to say otherwise? I pondered the same question at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. One of the Jackson Pollock masterpieces in the Collection was apparently created by dancing around and throwing paint at a canvas on the floor. I could do that!
And let's consider this sculpture that Rick insisted I pose beside.
Here is what the "Miniguide" (5 euros!) to the Collection had to say about it: ..."Horse and rider have a metaphysical quality hinting at the tension between spirit and matter, ecstasy and placidity, or between the artist's idea and the limitations of his materials.
On the other hand, I had no problem appreciating the paintings by Kandinsky, Modigliani, Picasso and Chagall. A painting by Max Ernst called "Attirement of the Bride" was quite... well... surreal!
I enjoyed the special exhibits almost as much as the main collection. One exhibit centered on the paintings of Charles Seliger, a surrealist whose paintings featured natural and biological themes. A photograph of the very young Seliger, hamming it up with big glasses and smoking a pipe, looked just like my nephew Richard! The second exhibit focused on bicycles, using the painting "Au Velodrome" by Jean Metzinger as the centrepiece. Lots of paintings of bicycles, of course, and there were real bicycles on display too. There was even a stationary bicycle, but this one was special. Called the "Einstein Bicycle", it was designed at the University of Tubingen to illustrate how space changes when moving at the speed of light. I can't pretend to have completely understood it, but it was fun to ride!
The building and setting also gave a glimpse into what it might be like to live in a palazzo on the Grand Canal. Inside, the décor is modern, but the view from the windows is classic Venice. The garden, where Peggy received special dispensation to be buried beside her pet dogs, was a lovely place to take a break.
Rick has pointed out that since I dedicated almost an entire posting to this museum, I must have liked it quite a bit after all. At the very least, it provided a refreshing contrast to the piety of the old Venetian masters. I wonder what Bellini or Tintoretto would have had to say about some of the pieces in the Guggenheim?
By the time we left the museum, it was late afternoon. Rick was ready for a rest, but I wanted to make one last stop at the Chiesa Angelo Raffaele, which features in the novel "Miss Garnett's Angel".(Later, I read that the church has become a bit of a pilgrimage site for "middle aged women" who love the book-ouch!) I convinced Rick that it was perfectly safe for me to walk to the church alone, so he went back to the hotel while I made my way along the Fondamenta Delle Zattere. I was beginning to regret sending him away when I realized that how little foot traffic there was in the Zattere district, but I found the church with no problem. Inside, a series of Guardi paintings depict scenes from the life of Tobias. I love that the dog figures so prominently in this story! Then I walked around to the front of the church and crossed the canal to get a better view of this statue of the Angel Raphael, Tobias and the dog.
I meant to go straight back to the hotel, but quickly got sidetracked by another treasure trove of artwork inside the Chiesa Dei Carmini. Then there was the Museum of Music in Campo San Maurizio, which had lovely displays of antique musical instruments as well as information on the life of Vivaldi, who was a native of Venice...it was becoming clear that Venice is a city where you can find something interesting around every corner. But my legs were getting tired and I was pretty sure Rick would be worried. In actual fact, when I got back to the hotel room, he was sound asleep.
But not for long. This was a man on a mission for more cichetti! Within an hour, we were off to Enoteca Al Volto (strongly recommended by Trip Advisor) where we had the reverse experience of the previous night -I didn't like the food and Rick thought it was great. We both agreed that the prosecco was delicious though. We finished off the evening at a streetside table at the café next to our hotel, sampling a few more cichetti, and sharing a carafe of wine. In the unlikely event that you run out of things to do in Venice, you can always just watch the people go by.
The next morning, we awoke to a surprise -it was raining in Venice! Fortunately, the Doge's palace (Palazzo Ducale), adjacent to St. Mark's, was just a short walk from out hotel, and the lineup to get in was under the shelter of the loggia.
The Doge's palace served as both the residence of Venice's leader (the Doge) and the centre of government. As befitted Venice's position of wealth and power, the palace was elaborately decorated and crammed with masterpieces by the leading artists of the period. Here is a glimpse of the courtyard and the massive statues of Neptune and Mars.
We spent almost the entire morning walking through room after incredible room. As in the Accademia, many of the paintings incorporated Venice into religious themes, but here the Doges were centre stage in many of the works. My personal favourite was a Titian painting of St. Christopher carrying the Christ child, with Venice shown in the hazy background. (It hangs in an obscure spot at the foot of a set of stairs used by the Doges, so be careful not to miss it if you go.) While I stood looking at it, a friendly American woman explained that the painting commemorated the return to religion after Napoleon's departure from Venice. (There was clearly not a word of truth to this, since Titian lived in the 16th century, long before Napoleon was born.)
From one of the rooms, we managed to get a good view of the marina on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where we probably would have stayed if we'd taken Aisling to Venice.
The culmination of the walk through the palace was the huge Council hall, with Tintoretto's massive "Paradiso" (mainly painted by Tintoretto's son) as the focal point. Even if we'd spent the entire day in this room, we couldn't possibly have absorbed it all. The ceiling alone has 35 paintings- if only we had been able to lay down on the floor to properly appreciate them!
We were ready to leave by then, but there didn't seem to be any way out of the Palace other than over the narrow "Bridge of Sighs" that connect the palace to Venice's old prison.
I almost felt like a prisoner myself as we shuffled across the narrow covered bridge in the midst of a crowd of other tourists. In the gloomy half-light, it was a very claustrophobic experience. When we finally reached the other side, two distraught American women stopped us. "Can we get out this way?" they asked. "We've been in here for ages and we can't find our way out!" and then "How long have you been in here?" (Rather funny, considering that we were in a prison at the time.) Clearly they were not going to be able to make their way against the stream of traffic moving across the Bridge of Sighs behind us, but fortunately they were able to duck under a barrier and join the crowd that was leaving. Later, I wished we had gone with them, because the prison was dark and depressing and the tour seemed to go on forever. We were happy to finally emerge into daylight and discover that the rain had stopped. Time for lunch.
We toyed with the idea of going to Florian's, but the prices on the menu looked too frightening. Instead we headed for the Pizzeria a la Briccola near our hotel, where the prices of the pizzas seemed to be reasonable. The pizza was mediocre, and what a shock to discover that our lunch bill came to 53 euros! We'd paid 7 euros each for two non-alcoholic beer (about a 700% mark-up) and 4 euros each for cappuccino. We should have gone to Florian's after all.
Our time in Venice was almost over and we still hadn't done any shopping. After collecting our bags at the hotel, we walked through the Rialto district, stopping at a few shops along the way. There wasn't enough time to do it justice, but I did come away with a lovely pair of Murano glass earrings, courtesy of Rick, as a memento of a very special weekend.
Like most visits to Venice, ours ended the same way it had started-with a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal.
Arrivederci Venice, I'll be seeing you in my dreams for a very long time!
Notes for Travelers:
We were a bit worried that August was not the best time to go to Venice, but it worked out very well for us. Since it was relatively late in the month, the weather had cooled down a bit, and the crowds at the main sights were relatively light. Do some research and book restaurants for dinner in advance-many seemed overpriced and good food seemed hard to find (typical of tourist areas everywhere, in our experience). Don't forget your mosquito repellent, especially if you plan to dine outside in the early evening!
We stayed at the Hotel San Zulian, which was conveniently located near Piazza San Marco and very reasonably priced at 110 euros/night including a buffet breakfast (perhaps because August is not considered high season).
You can call ahead and book your entrance to the Galleria Dell Academia ahead of time to avoid waiting in line, although when we called to do this we were told it was not necessary because the gallery is not busy at this time of the year. It's worth investing in the audio guide at the gallery in order to understand the paintings. Some rooms have information sheets in English but many do not.