A Tale of Riches to Rags

I swore I wouldn't leave it until the last minute to attend the exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny, but that is exactly what I did. 
Portrait of Luisa Casati by Augustus John
La Divina Marchesa: Arte e vita di Luisa Casati dalla Belle Époque agli Anni folli opened last October and was scheduled to close yesterday, the day I eventually pitched up!  

Luisa Casati was a flamboyant and eccentric Italian heiress, muse and patron of the arts. For a while she lived in Venice, where in addition to giving extravagant and lavish parties, she would roam the streets, naked beneath her furs, with a pair of cheetahs for company.  
Palazzo Fortuny, Venice
I was keen to attend the exhibition for two reasons. The first was to see Augustus John's portrait of the Marchesa, which is on loan from Toronto, a city I have no expectation of ever visiting. And the second was to see inside the Palazzo Fortuny, which is only open when it hosts an exhibition. 
Palazzo Fortuny, Venice
Neither the portrait nor the palazzo disappointed. The central hall on the first floor (the main exhibition space) was draped floor to ceiling with exotic fabrics, which extended across the windows blocking out all natural light. I was reminded of the interior of Biba. 

By 1930 Casati's ostentatious lifestyle had taken its toll and she was in debt to the tune of millions. She fled to London where she spent the remaining three decades of her life in somewhat straitened circumstances. 

In 1957, the year of her death, she was living in a small flat near Harrods. The Marchesa was buried, with a pair of false eyelashes and one of her stuffed Pekingese pets, in Brompton cemetery. Perhaps the final indignity was to have her name misspelt (Louisa rather than Luisa) on her gravestone.


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