Francesco Carraro – A Biography

Fondazione Chiara e Francesco Carraro

Born into a family of industrialists in the Veneto region, Francesco Carraro spent his formative years in Rome during the Fabulous Fifties, never tiring of discovering everything there was to see and learn there.

Immersed in the city’s grandeur, it was in Rome, in fact, that he first began cultivating a deep awareness of art. His lifelong dedication to art was enabled by his father Giovanni, a leading producer of agricultural machinery. Suspecting he might not be cut out for such technical activity, Francesco asked his father to pay him a factory worker’s wage he then used to begin studying music. Later, Francesco followed his brothers Mario and Oscar when they left the family business to found one of the most important and renowned industrial groups in Northeast Italy. 

In 1966, he moved to Berlin, where he continued studying under Karlheinz Stockhausen. Upon returning to Rome, Francesco frequented principally two art galleries that inspired his curious mind: the Rome branch of Marlborough Gallery, and Emporio Floreale, an avant-garde gallery specialized in Art Nouveau directed by Maria Paola Maino. Frequent visits there sparked his interest in collecting works of art and design.

The objects in his first, small collection of paintings and works of decorative art followed him to Venice when he moved there in 1970 upon appointment as Director of the International Festival of Contemporary Music at the Biennale. 

As organizer, he brought musicians of the caliber of Aldo Clementi and Francesco Pennisi, and American composers John Cage, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, and Steven Reich to Venice. The performance of Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass directed by Robert Wilson there in 1976 was unforgettable. Among the many artists and collectors he met in Venice, he made lifelong friendship with Ileana Sonnabend, the 20th-century art dealer who popularized American art of the 1960s in Europe.

After marrying Chiara in 1976, the couple moved to an apartment near Palazzo Grassi that soon became a storeroom for his growing art collection. This was when Francesco asked Gilda D’Agaro to help decorate. The Director of Castelvecchio Museum in Verona, Licisco Magagnato, had recommended her to him as an architect. Francesco initially wanted to assign Carlo Scarpa to the design of a house in Campodarsego where his family lived, but owing to Scarpa’s many other commitments and legendary slowness, D’Agaro presented him with an acceptable compromise – also because she’d been working for years with Carlo Scarpa on projects such as the now famous Olivetti showroom in Piazza San Marco. Architect D’Agaro was a perfectionist who shared Francesco’s preference for sober elegance in design and appreciated his solid opinions and understanding of art and architecture.

In addition to the country home, they worked on various other projects together, particularly midway through the 1990s when Francesco and Chiara took new residence in Campo Sant’ Angelo on the “piano nobile” of an important Gothic palazzo. Here, Francesco and Gilda created a special space to host their continuously growing collection very much in line with the notion of “Gesamtkunstwerk”. By this time, the decorative art collection included works of primal importance by designers the likes of Carlo Bugatti, Eugenio Quarti, Emile Gallé, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Josef Hoffman, Gio Ponti, and Carlo Scarpa, as well as a significant collection of 20th-century Venetian glass.

With its magnificent examples of wares made in Murano, it soon became one of the most highly esteemed collections of Venetian glass in the entire world.  Francesco was perhaps one of the most expert collectors in the sector, always ready to travel anywhere in quest of the best works to be purchased. Growing consistently, the art collection featured such Italian masters as Adolfo Wildt, Arturo Martini, Antonio Donghi, Giorgio de Chirico, and Giorgio Morandi, whose works were soon followed by others from important Contemporary Italian artists. Its was the corpus of the Italian works of the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s that offered a complete and impressive summa of Italian art production of the period. Those were the works Francesco cherished most and always considered the driving force behind his efforts as a collector. A sharp eye, refined taste, and gut instinct guided Francesco in making his purchases. Indifferent to the opinion of others, the only thing that mattered was his own judgment, which was definitive and subject to his eye alone.

Commenting on his passion for collecting, Francesco once said: «I’ve accumulated much – too much to be displayed all at once – but I adore beholding beautiful objects and surrounding myself with them. I really want to live in contact with the things I buy».

The enduring desire of Chiara and Francesco was to create a Foundation for the protection of the work of a lifetime: his collection. Now housed in the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice, the Chiara and Francesco Carraro Collection will preserve his unique vision, knowledge, and boundless passion for art and culture. 

Fondazione Chiara e Francesco Carraro