The architecture of Palazzo Grassi is attributed to Giorgio Massari (1687-1766), who was at that period finishing Ca’Rezzonico on the opposite side of the Grand Canal. It was commissioned by the Grassi family, originally from Chioggia, who had bought a plot of land in a magnificent location; its trapezoidal form offered the added advantage of providing a long façade on the canal. It is believed that work began in 1740 or 1748, possibly being completed by 1758 or, more probably, in 1772. This was the last palazzo to be built in Venice before the fall of the Republic.
One palace, many uses
Almost immediately, the history of the palazzo was marked by various vicissitudes, starting with the collapse of the Grassi family fortune, which would result in a number of changes in the building’s layout. In 1840 the brothers Angelo and Domenico Grassi made over the palace to the Società Veneta Commerciale, owned by Spiridione Papadopoli. He sold it four years later to the opera singer Antonio Poggi, a great interpreter of Italian Romantic works. Soon after, Poggi sold it to a Hungarian painter, Józsej Agost Schöfft. After his death in 1850, Schöfft’s second wife, Giuseppina Lindlau, opened it as a hotel (the Hôtel de la Ville), a fate suffered in this period by many of the old palaces lining the Grand Canal. There was a new change of ownership in 1857, following the building’s purchase by baron Simeone de Sina, a Greek financier living in Venice; he was responsible for various important changes to the structure and internal decor. In 1908, de Sina’s heirs sold the palazzo to the Swiss industrialist, Giovanni Stucky. Following the death of his son Giancarlo in 1943, the building passed into the hands of another important Venetian industrialist and financier, Vittorio Cini, who sold it in 1949. The palace was bought by a property company which, two years later, installed an international art and costume centre within its walls.
From Gianni Agnelli to François Pinault
Palazzo Grassi was bought in 1983 by the Fiat group, which commissioned the Milanese architect Gae Aulenti to refurbish it as an exhibition space. From 1983 to 2005 Palazzo Grassi, administered by a FIAT management team personally selected by Gianni Agnelli, was internationally renowned for its art exhibitions. Under the aegis of a series of exceptional directors (Pontus Hulten, Paolo Viti and others), Palazzo Grassi presented ambitious and well-attended shows, notably those devoted to great civilizations of the past (for example, the Etruscans, the Mayans, and the Celts). Following the death of Gianni Agnelli, FIAT chose to terminate its involvement. In May 2005 François Pinault decided to take over Palazzo Grassi.