A True Collector

Lars Rachen

That was Francesco Carraro. Possessed with a great, unscrupulous brave eye, profound knowledge, endless passion, curiosity, no fear and fantastic taste.

That was Francesco: a man from the last century, in any sense of the word.

His collection, put together over the last fifty years of his life, was his great joy, the source of endless inspiration, every single day of his life – never to be finished and to be admired always.

I met Francesco Carraro in 1992, at Christie’s New York, where I had just started working as the junior cataloguer in the department of 20th Century Decorative Arts and Design and it was there, that we began a lifelong friendship. For every auction Francesco knew what was there, what was good, what was indifferent and what needed to be considered for purchase.

Born into an industrial family from the Veneto, Francesco Carraro lived his early formative years in Rome, embracing those exceptional years of the 1950s in that city. Never tired to see, to learn, to know; it was Rome, where he studied the arts of that city and began his profound knowledge of art, culture and music.

He was able to pursue a life with the arts due to his father Giovanni’s business, a company manufacturing agricultural machinery. Knowing that this technical business would not be for him, he asked his father to pay him a salary like a worker and with this he began studying music, specifically twelve-tone music. In 1966 he moved to Berlin to continue these studies, alongside Karlheinz Stockhausen.

His collection, put together over the last fifty years of his life, was his great joy, the source of endless inspiration, every single day of his life – never to be finished and to be admired always.

On his return to Rome, Francesco frequented two Galleries which provided inspiration for his curious mind: the Rome branch of Marlborough Gallery and Emporio Floreale, a pioneering gallery specializing in Italian Art Nouveau or Stile Liberty, run by Maria Paola Maino. These visits were the start of his interest in collecting art and design.

Starting a small collection of paintings and decorative arts, these works travelled with Francesco to Venice in 1970, where he moved to become responsible for the organisation of the International Festival of Contemporary Music at the Venice Biennale.

During his tenure, he brought artists such as Aldo Clementi and Francesco Pennisi to Venice and the American composers, John Cage, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley and Steven Reich. Memorable, was the Venetian performance of Einstein on the Beach, by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson in 1976.

It was in Venice where he met many artists and collectors. He formed a lifelong friendship with Ileana Sonnabend, the dealer of 20th century art who was instrumental in making American art of the 1960s known in Europe.

After marrying his wife, Chiara, in 1976, they settled into an apartment near the Palazzo Grassi. The flat soon became a depository for this growing collection of art, and it was during this time that Francesco asked Gilda D’Agaro to help decorate the apartment. It was the director of the Museo Castelvecchio in Verona, Licisco Magagnato, who recommended D’Agaro to Francesco as an architect. Originally, Francesco wanted to hire Carlo Scarpa to design a house in Campodarsego, the family base. But because of Scarpa’s extensive commitments and slow work, D’Agaro was a good compromise. She had collaborated on projects with Carlo Scarpa for years, including the now famous showroom for Olivetti on Piazza San Marco.

D’Agaro was a perfectionist, and like Francesco, shared the same rigorous design aesthetics and appreciated his firm opinions and understanding of art and architecture.

This collaboration included several projects, like his country house but would be repeated in the mid-1990, when Francesco and Chiara found a suitable new apartment, in Campo Sant'Angelo near Campo Santo Stefano. The apartment was in a grand Gothic building, where the piano nobile was for sale. It was here that he and Gilda created a place to house the ever-growing art collection in a “Gesamtkunstwerk-like” setting.

It was here that he and Gilda created a place to house the ever-growing art collection in a “Gesamtkunstwerk-like” setting.

By now the collection of decorative arts included key works by designers such as Carlo Bugatti, Eugenio Quarti, Emile Gallé, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Josef Hoffman, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa and a highly significant collection of Venetian glass of the 20th Century.

This collection included key examples of Murano glass, becoming soon one of the most important collections of Venetian glass in the world. Not, because of quantity, but quality. Francesco became perhaps one of the most knowlegbale collectors in this field and for him the pursuit was to purchase the best examples of these models to be found anywhere in the world.

Part of his growing collection of fine art included works by Italian masters such as Adolfo Wildt, Arturo Martini, Antonio Donghi, Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi. Later adding critical works by artists belonging to the Arte Povera group. But it was the corpo of the Italian works from the 20s-30s-40s that represented a complete and impressive oeuvre of Italian artists of this period. Francesco identified with these works in the most personal way and always considered this part of the collection the driving force of his pursuits.

It was Francesco’s precise eye and taste, followed by his instinct, which formed his decision in buying art. Even if others had different opinions, his final judgement was “exclusivo” – final and responding only to his own eye.

Commenting on collecting Francesco once said: “I have accumulated a lot – too much to have on display all the time – but I love to look at beautiful things and be surrounded by them, I want to really live with the things I buy.”

It was Francesco and Chiara’s great desire to establish a foundation to secure his life-long work: his collection. The Fondazione Chiara e Francesco Carraro, now housed at Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, will preserve his unique eye, knowledge and endless passion for art and culture.

Lars Rachen