Battle begins over Guggenheim’s Venice art

The descendants of famous heiress and art collector Peggy Guggenheim will on Tuesday launch a court appeal over her sumptuous collection of works housed in an 18th century palace on Venice's Grand Canal.

Battle begins over Guggenheim's Venice art
The Penny Guggenheim collection is housed in Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Venice Grand Canal. Photo: G Lanting

At the tender age of 13, Peggy Guggenheim inherited unimaginable wealth when her metal magnate father Benjamin went down on the Titanic, money she used to collect and display contemporary art.

After amassing a collection including works from – among others – Cocteau, Picasso, Miro, Matisse and Salvador Dali – she bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Venice Grand Canal and began to display the priceless pieces.

As she neared her death in 1979, she handed over the palace and the collection of 326 works to the Solomon Guggenheim Foundation based in New York and run at the time by her cousin Hardy Guggenheim.

But now, one of Peggy's grandsons, Sandro Rumney, has launched a court battle over how the collection is managed, calling for it to be restored to its original configuration.

Lawyer Olivier Morice said it was about “respecting the wishes of Peggy Guggenheim to see the collection intact”.

The plaintiffs complain that works from other collections are now being displayed at the Palazzo, diluting Peggy's work.

They hired bailiffs to analyze the displays, finding in 2013 that there were 94 pieces from the Guggenheim collection and 75 works from the Schulhof collection, put together by a couple of American art collectors.

This “breaks with the original arrangement that Peggy wanted and which should be respected after her death”, the plaintiffs argue.

They want the collection's original state restored, as well as “protection” in the palace garden around a plaque marking Peggy's ashes – a “grave” they believe has been desecrated.

The appeal is taking place in France because Rumney and his children live there, but they already suffered a setback in July when a lower court threw out the case.

The Paris lower court said the case had already been settled in the 1990s when it was ruled the collection could not be considered as “protected”.

The Guggenheim Foundation said it was “proud to have faithfully respected the wishes of Peggy Guggenheim for more than 30 years by keeping her collection intact”, restoring the palace and running the “most visited modern and contemporary art museum in Italy”.

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.