Reopening Fortuny Museum

Reopening Fortuny Museum

The Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, the magical setting for the creative genius of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo and his wife and muse Henriette Nigrin is reopening in Venice.

Two years after the Acqua Granda, the home and studio of the artist, who at the beginning of the 20th century chose Venice for his eclectic experimentation, is being handed back to the city as a permanent museum celebrating his memory.

The fascinating museum layout designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi with Gabriella Belli and Chiara Squarcina reevokes the atmosphere of one of the city’s most iconic palaces at the dawn of the 20th century.

The Venetian Gothic palace that was the home and workshop of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (Granada 1871, Venice 1949) and his wife, muse and companion Henriette Nigrin was a focal point, at the beginning of the 20th century, for the European intellectual elite and a productive centre in cosmopolitan, hardworking Venice. It is now reopening its doors following essential conservation work on the ground floor (seriously damaged by the Acqua Granda in November 2019) and a complete refurbishment of the piano nobili, no longer just a space for temporary exhibitions but also home to a permanent museum focusing on Mariano Fortuny and his universe of light and innovation.

Extensive work has been done to refurbish and upgrade the palace, overseen by Venice City Council and the technical and maintenance department of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. The work was funded through Art Bonus thanks to a significant contribution from the brand leader PAM Panorama. The portego, accessed from Campo San Beneto, has been restored and the reception facilities completely revamped.

At the same time there has been a historically grounded reorganization of the museum spaces, with the restoration of the rooms devoted to the memory of the brilliant and talented life of the Spanish artist – the 150th anniversary of his birth was in 2021 – and the reopening on the piani nobili of the marvellous polifora multi-light windows, the focal point of the palace’s now fully valorized architecture and a source of natural light that can be modulated according to needs.

The fascinating exhibition layout has been designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, a director, set designer and architect of international fame, together with Gabriella Belli and Chiara Squarcina. Massimo Gasparon provided support regarding the complex lighting choices. Visitors can now immerse themselves in the atmosphere of what was a celebrated and important place in Venice at the time, as attested by the many period photographs immortalizing some of the rooms, through which it has been possible to learn more about the tastes, presences, pairings, references and relations between prominent figures, objects, creations, arts and skills.

The Moorish background, classical culture, Oriental influences, myth and the Wagnerian world, multiple interests and passions, paintings (Mariano’s own and those of his father), theatre sets and lighting inventions, stunning garments and incredible textiles springing from the genius of Mariano and Henriette, photographic archives, works from the personal collection, documents and patents, and testimony from artists and friends who visited Venice at the time – all of this coexists and is thrown into new light in the Venetian palace, now open all the year round with a new and permanent visitor route and a space for temporary exhibitions relating to the contemporary.

The collaboration with Tessuti Artistici Fortuny SRL over the next five years will be invaluable.

In keeping with the tradition of the place, once devoted to contemporary art, the inauguration of the museum – marked by two days of free admission on 12 and 13 March, by prior booking only – will be the occasion to present to the public for the first time, as a temporary exhibition, an exceptional donation received by the Fondazione dei Musei Civici di Venezia of a body of works by leading American artists of the Panza di Biumo collection. The exhibition is a tribute to the memory of one of the most important collectors of the twentieth century.

Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo received an international upbringing, having been born into one of the best-known families in 19th-century Spanish artistic and cultural life, a family that had settled in Venice some ten years earlier. Mariano saw the Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei for the first time in 1898. The building, the largest example of Venetian Renaissance Gothic in the city, was in a state of neglect and decay, but he was fascinated by it and in the space of a decade he managed to restore it to its former splendour and to re-establish the balance and proportions of the structure. The palace between Campo San Beneto and Rio Michiel soon became his home, a space for conducting his artistic and stage set experiments, an extraordinary atelier that he ran together with Henriette Nigrin and a favourite meeting place for the Venetian and international elite.

A multifaceted, eclectic and tireless artist; a talented genius receptive to modernity and the innovations of the 20th century; and an astute businessman capable of applying his creativity to various artistic disciplines, including painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, theatre, lighting, design, fashion and textiles for furnishings – Mariano Fortuny was all of that and more. He invented production processes, created new materials, designed technical devices for which he took out trademarks and patents. And it is this world, a mix of influences, ideas and materials, that is coming to life now in the new layout of the museum in the Palazzo Fortuny. The building was donated to the city council in 1956 by Fortuny’s widow Henriette, so that it might be perpetually used as a “centre for culture relating to art”, preserving in the first-floor reception room the characteristics and the objects “of what was Mariano’s favourite studio”.

Now, for the first time, over ninety percent of the materials relating to Mariano Fortuny and either owned by the Venetian municipal collections or held on a loan for use basis, such as the precious ancient fabrics of the Fondazione di Venezia, are all on display together in a fascinating museum route that combines the fascination of the living spaces of a house and studio with theme-based rooms that have more of a museum flavour, together with an insight – on the second floor of the palace, also open to visitors from June – into objects and instruments associated with Mariano’s tireless and innovative working practices.

On the first floor of the palace, it is now possible to admire in full – in a perfect setting for society events – a fascinating and unexpected series of wall paintings covering no less that 140 square metres. Using the artifice of trompe l’oeil and applying colours in harmonious combinations, Mariano created the illusion of an enchanted garden, with allegorical figures, satyrs and exotic animals. At the same time, visitors can admire, contextualized between two walls filled with his stage sketches and copies from Tiepolo, a model of the unrealized design produced by Fortuny for a Teatro delle Feste for the Esplanade des Invalides in 1910, in collaboration with Gabriele d’Annunzio and the French architect Lucien Hesse.

Along the immense portego, discreetly lit by the marvellous polifora windows and with a succession of fantastic textiles, highly original lamps inspired by planets and of his own design, pictures, furniture and objects – as documented in period photos – Mariano’s Spanish origins and the intellectual and artistic world of the Madrazo and Marsal families are recalled. There is space too for the pictorial output of both the artist and his father – a fine painter who produced a series of small landscapes on view in a large wardrobe-display cabinet designed by Mariano – interspersed with portraits and works inspired by Henriette that focus on her face, hair and poses.

There are amazing and dramatically striking pairings of fabulous, printed velvets created by Mariano, with motifs inspired largely by the Renaissance; the original model of the attire he designed for the funeral of the fourteenth duke of Lerma, who died in the Spanish Civil War, of which an exceptional dalmatic in gold and silver printed black velvet stands out; and Mariano’s stage costumes for a production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello. The opera was performed by Kiki Palmer’s company in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale on 18 August 1933, with set and costumes by Fortuny and the direction of Pietro Sharoff.

The succession of small side rooms focus on distinctive themes associated with the life and world of the Spanish artist, who made Venice and this building the epicentre of his extraordinary existence. First and foremost, there is his painter’s studio, recreated like a set, with his easel, nude studies, various models and anatomic examples, and the colours he created and patented (no fewer than 46 temperas and 4 primers) himself – all materials preserved in the archives and storerooms of the Fondazione Muve.

Then there are copies made from old masters (Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Goya, etc.), a fundamental exercise and source of knowledge and inspiration for a painter, and his passion for Wagner, with the paintings inspired by Parsifal and The Ring and the studies for the sets and costumes designed for the premiere of Tristan and Isolde at the Scala in Milan. It was undoubtedly his love of the German composer’s music and his idea of the total artwork that led Fortuny to take an interest in set design, theatre painting and lighting. This in turn prompted the revolutionary invention of the “Cupola”, which would bring indirect and diffused light, colourful skies and clouds to theatres all over Europe.

Photography, another field of interest, sheds light on the places Mariano visited, especially Paris and Venice but Greece and the East as well, and the friends and prominent figures with whom he mixed: Mario De Maria, Cesare Laurenti, Ettore Tito, Pompeo Molmenti, Lino Selvatico, Felice Casorati, Giovanni Boldini, Auguste Rodin, Ignacio Zuloaga, Adolphe Appia, Arturo Toscanini, Giuseppe Giacosa, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Marcel Proust, Eleonora Duse, Loie Fuller, Isadora Duncan, Sarah Bernhardt, Emma Grammatica, José Maria Sert, the Marchesa Casati Stampa, Consuelo Vanderbilt and many others.

Spanish weapons and armour, together with marvellous Murano glassware, reflect and evidence his delight in collecting, evoked also with works from the municipal museums that were not part of the family collection, now dispersed. But it is the fashion room – the showroom reserved for the most prominent female elite, that really conjures up the atmosphere of the home-cum-atelier. On display here, amidst a play of veils, are the Knossos shawls and the famous Delphos pleated silk gown created together with Henriette, much sought-after by the divas of the age.

The museum route might end there, but from June onwards there will be guided tours (by prior booking) of the second floor of the palace, offering further discoveries and a genuine gift for enthusiasts of early 20th-century culture and the Fortuny world, for the curious and for all Venetians who – having free admission to the municipal museums – can return time and time again to make fresh discoveries on each occasion.

On the second floor, in fact, are Mariano’s studios, revealing all his abilities, skills and arts – a ‘behind the scenes’ of his creations. There is the printmaking and typography, with presses, etchings, his own productions and the equally fine ones of his father, and the works collected by the family, for instance etchings by Goya, Tiepolo and Piranesi. Then there is the textile laboratory of gowns and fabrics, including his mother’s important collection of garments and ancient fabrics, the original matrices for printing and models for pattern cutting; the theatre, with the wooden stages made by Mariano to try out lighting and stage effects. Alongside this is the photographic studio, with the experimental equipment that led to the patenting of a special kind of photo paper, and finally, his work as a painter and his beloved books. Even Mariano’s study and library, immortalized in many photos from the period, will be open to the public for the first time – a fascinating discovery featuring the furniture he designed, the cuttings and the curiosities he kept, the covered filing cabinets and his most personal mementoes.

Facebook Comments