A breathtaking social portrait, peeling the glitter from privileged lives even as it fleshes out the spectacle they created.
The Unfinished Palazzo tells the stories of notoriously eccentric women: the Marchesa Luisa Casati, from Milan, a champion exhibitionist who considered her life (and especially her person) to be a work of art; Doris, Lady Castlerosse, an Englishwoman whose lovers included both Winston Churchill and his son, Randolph; and finally [Peggy] Guggenheim, the American art patron who bequeathed the mansion to her family's foundation as a museum of modern art. ... Their life stories are flashy, a kaleidoscope of bad marriages, bad divorces, Fortuny dresses, outlandish costume parties, fashionable portraits, excessive champagne, famous lovers, pickup lovers, alienated children and overlapping celebrity acquaintances. ... In more enlightened times these women might have had solid accomplishments...but Mackrell's documentation of their relentless self-absorption and unfiltered vanity argues against it.
Each in turn used the Unfinished Palazzo as a stage on which to re-fashion her life, with a dazzling supporting cast ranging from DAnnunzio and Nijinsky, through Noël Coward, Winston Churchill and Cecil Beaton, to Yoko Ono. Individually sensational and collectively remarkable, these stories of modern Venice tell us much about the ways women chose to live in the 20th century.