The extraordinary life of the 20th century’s most outrageous Venetian, Luisa Casati

Perhaps the ultimate manifestation of the aesthete credo, Luisa wanted her clothes, her home, her parties and her servants to be living, breathing works of art in their totality, even to the point where it is said that more than one of her servants died after being painted entirely in toxin-laced gold paint before one soirée. 

The Casati coffers, however, were running dry. Living on a diet of cocaine, absinthe and opium, by 1930 Luisa was in debt to what would be today be over $30m. Sued by a coal merchant for non-payment of bills, she received a two-month suspended prison sentence. Selling the palazzo, she spent her last years in a tiny flat in Knightsbridge, surrounded by the stuffed remains of her dogs.

Luisa died in 1957, aged 76, and is buried in Brompton Cemetery. Yet, having visited her unkempt grave in south-west London, it seems inconceivable to me that this woman, whose style has been namechecked by John Galliano and Alexander McQueen, could ever have been laid to rest anywhere but Venice.

Look carefully, as I did, into those lagoons and the rooms of the Guggenheim, and Luisa’s angular, assertive shadow lingers still.


Rob Crossan was a guest of Tui, which offers three-night breaks in Venice, staying at the 4T Giorgionie Hotel, from £549 per person B&B based on two adults sharing a double room and including flights EasyJet from London Gatwick. A ‘Tui Collection experience’ 30-minute private Gondola tour costs £118 per person (

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