The Palazzo Contarini

A Palazzo for Art

The Palazzo Ducale (1908) by Claude MonetMuseum Barberini

Monet in Venice

During a ten-week stay in Venice in 1908, Claude Monet painted 37 views of the lagoon city with its palaces on the Grand Canal. 

The Grand Canal, Venice by Joseph Mallord William TurnerLegion of Honor

The city interested him not as a veduta, but as a projection surface for light. In this way, he emulated his predecessor J. M. W. Turner, who had illuminated La Serenissima and painted its glowing waterfront facades in his nighttime scenes of fireworks in Venice from the 1840s.

Palazzo Contarini, Venedig, Kunstmuseum St.Gallen (1908) by Claude MonetMuseum Barberini

Twice Monet painted the Palazzo Contarini, focusing his attention on the play of light on the façade and the reflections on the surface of the water. 

The Palazzo Contarini (1908) by Claude MonetMuseum Barberini

In Monet’s paintings, the bright impression of the late Gothic palazzo with its early Renaissance marble ornamentation dissolves into a dark shimmer of blues, grays, and violets. 

Here, just as in his contemporaneous paintings of the reflective surface of his water lily pond in Giverny, Monet eliminated the sky.

The Doorway (1880) by James Abbott McNeill WhistlerLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Monet’s paintings of the Palazzo Contarini also recall the melancholy color symphonies of his painter friend James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who had first captured the deserted quarters of the city of Venice in etchings from the 1870s and 1880s.

Two Doorways (1879–80) by James McNeill WhistlerThe Metropolitan Museum of Art

An Interior in Venice (1899) by John Singer Sargent RARoyal Academy of Arts

A Palazzo for Art

Monet’s choice of motif, however, also had to do with a circle of American art patrons who met on the Grand Canal near the Accademia, at first in the Palazzo Barbaro across from the Palazzo Contarini. 

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Ever since the world exposition in Paris in 1889, many American collectors had become aware of Monet’s painting, and his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel had begun representing him in the United States in 1896. American industrialists, travelers to Europe, and patrons of the arts had thus become some of his most important clientele. 

Mrs. Joshua Montgomery Sears (Sarah Choate Sears) (1899) by John Singer SargentThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The American painter John Singer Sargent had visited Monet in Giverny in the mid-1880s. As portraitist to the Sears, Wertheimer, and Vanderbilt families, Singer Sargent enjoyed close contact with the industrial dynasties of the American economic boom of the so-called Gilded Age.

Claude Monet Painting by the Edge of a Wood, Photo: Tate (1885) by John Singer SargentMuseum Barberini

Singer Sargent admired Monet for his landscape pictures painted directly from nature under the open sky — and captured this activity in a painting of his own.

An Interior in Venice (1899) by John Singer Sargent RARoyal Academy of Arts

In Venice, Singer Sargent lodged with relatives who maintained a salon in the Palazzo Barbaro. The painter Winnaretta Singer-Polignac and the composer Prince Edmond de Polignac were also among their guests.

Self-portrait, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons (1885) by Winnaretta SingerMuseum Barberini

In 1900, Winnaretta Singer, daughter of an American industrialist, decided to acquire the Palazzo Contarini in order to host concerts there during the summer, as she and her husband also did in their atelier in Paris.

The family of the sewing machine entrepreneur Isaac Merritt Singer had lived for a time in Paris, where Winnaretta Singer studied art and developed an interest in the plein air painting  of Eugène Boudin, Alfred Sisley, and Claude Monet. In 1889, she exhibited a landscape and a portrait at the Salon.

Princesse Louis de Scey-Montbeliard, marked as public domain, more details on Wikimedia Commons (1889) by John Singer SargentMuseum Barberini

During her first marriage to French nobleman Louis de Scey-Montbéliard, she also commissioned this portrait from Singer Sargent and began to acquire works by Monet.

Edmond de Polignac first became aware of Winnaretta Singer through her purchases in the Parisian gallery of George Petit, where she outbid him to acquire Monet’s Tulip Fields in Holland, painted in 1886. Later de Polignac would joke, “I married the American and could look at the painting as often as I liked.”

[Ballet "Petrushka" by Igor Stravinsky] (1920s) by Pawel BarchanThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Winnaretta Singer-Polignac supported musicians and composers such as Gabriel Fauré, Eric Satie, Igor Stravinsky, and Arthur Rubinstein. She promoted the Ballets Russes and the Paris Opera as well as Baroque music.

Venice, after Monets "The Palazzo Contarini" (2016-2019) by Christoph IrrgangMuseum Barberini

Long before Peggy Guggenheim, Winnaretta Singer created a haven for art on the Grand Canal. In 1928 she founded the Fondation Singer-Polignac. To this day, the Palazzo Contarini belongs to the Polignac family and still provides a venue for concerts of modern music.

The Palazzo Contarini (1908) by Claude MonetMuseum Barberini

American Patrons

Singer’s activity at the Palazzo Contarini continued into 1917, the year Monet’s painting The Palazzo Contarini was acquired from Durand-Ruel by the New York copper baron and music enthusiast Adolph Lewisohn. Lewisohn became a sponsor of the Metropolitan Opera, and financed open-air classical concerts from 1918 on in the Lewisohn Stadium he had built. 

Monet did not fall short of his aim: his painting was received into the collection of an American culture enthusiast and patron. His choice of motif had hit a nerve in American collectors’ circles.

In 2013, the German-American art collector and patron Hasso Plattner acquired the painting The Palazzo Contarini. Today it is housed in the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, which he founded.

Credits: Story

We would like to thank the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen and Tate Images for their kind permission to use their images.

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