Queer Places:
Villa Foscari o La Malcontenta, Mira, VE
University of Cambridge, 4 Mill Ln, Cambridge CB2 1RZ
Cimitero di San Michele Venice, Città Metropolitana di Venezia, Veneto, Italy

Albert "Bertie" Clinton Landsberg (September 21, 1889 - March, 1965) was the son of banker Albert Landsberg (1851–1923) and Lucy Ethel Williams. A bon vivant, Bertie Landsberg pursues his yearning for the true and the beautiful. In 1926 he bought Villa Foscari "La Malcontenta", together with his friends Paul Rodocanachi and Catherine d'Erlanger. After splendid summer salons, he had to flee from fascism, which had taken over anti-Semitism, in 1939 and returned in 1947. After the war, he visited the villa for a few weeks each year until his death in 1965. Lord Claud Philimore inherited the building and later sold it again to the Foscari family.

The death in March 1965 of Bertie Landsberg has removed from the artistic world of Europe and America a remarkable and rarely gifted personality.

Born in Brazil, he descended through both parents from distinguished European and North American stock. He was educated mostly in England, at Harrow and Cambridge, and later in Paris. But it was in England that he felt most at home. So much was this so that, when an attaché at the Brazilian Embassy, he so far forgot his status as to apply for British nationality; a lapse which his ambassador happily took with good humour.

He had the unusual advantage and strength of being broadly clear, at the age of 11 or so, that his aim in life would be the study and pursuit, the possession and adoration, the constant contemplation and evaluation of beauty in all its forms. And though tossed about by all, or more than the normal flux of change, chance, passion and desire, he never lost sight of that aim.

Paul Rodocanachi, Portrait of Bertie Landsberg, 1912

Pablo Picasso, Bertie Landsberg, 1922

Lord Snowdon, Bertie e Dorothea Landsberg at La Malcontenta

From earliest days he was a passionate looker, absorbing form, light and shade, texture, pattern, colour relationship : noting and comparing. And judging by absolute standards, without prejudice or predilection. His mind was singularly free and open to new impressions and modes. His approach to all works of art was sensual rather than intellectual and he became scholarly chiefly from having 'read' and remembered an immense quantity of works of art, rather than books about them: though these, too, followed or accompanied. His reaction to a work of art was spontaneous and immediate, though he might return to it for a lifetime of study and observation. This approach helped him greatly in his creative work both in Italy and over the beautiful house he evolved from a ruin in Portugal and for which he de-signed so much of the furniture and fittings with rare taste.

He was 35 when he first saw the Villa Foscari at Malcontenta and gave himself up to a love affair which ended only with his death, and which remains his most moving memorial. He knew little of Italy at the time except from pictures and books, having concentrated on France and England. The impact of the noble old building was instantaneous, overwhelming and never diminished. He has beautifully told its story and his own part in it in the pages of Country Life.

Two perfections are fused now in that building: that of Palladio and his fellow-artists and Bertie Landsberg's recreation of it and its adaptation to modern use. One hears of many 'perfect' houses, 'perfectly' arranged. The epithet is loosely used. Malcontenta is the great exception. Never has such perfect harmony between building, decoration, furniture and objects been so perfectly achieved. Not a form, not a colour, not a texture is out of place, or does not serve to enhance and complete the archi-tectural whole. And all this is achieved by the simplest, yet most artful, means. This extraordinary two-fold work of art comes as a revelation to all who see it.

One might be inclined to think his achievements somewhat slight: a beautiful old house rescued and recreated, another with its ordered gardens and dependencies formed from a few low, rambling ruins into an earthly paradise; designs for furniture and so forth; a slim volume of sensitive poems. Until one comes to examine them, and to realize that it requires a lifetime's ex-perience and knowledge to create with such restraint and such distinction.

And then how to estimate what he gave out in generous, com-passionate human sympathy and understanding? And to remember the riches of his conversation! He had a mind so stored with sensitive knowledge, observation, and distilled experience, that the most casual, chance remark would often release a flood of thoughtful comparison, embroidery and reminiscence which would leave one gasping at so rich a return on so paltry an invest-ment. The enthralling torrent of words would flow, eager, apt, and illuminating, interrupted by warm, infectious laughter and more than Jamesian parentheses - on the landing of the stairs, over an unceasingly renewed lather while shaving, at ease in the beauti-ful rooms, or across the table over delicious and prolonged feasts in the shade of the acacia grove at Malcontenta. Conversation shared with and taken up by so many people who represented all that was most vital and creative in the artistic world of many countries.

Gifted with good looks and charm, he never lost, as physical bulk gained on him, his finely bred features and appearance. Indeed his size seemed only an emanation of his large warmth of heart, generosity, and compassion, and a token of the assurance and certitude which study and experience had brought him.

His enthusiasm never waned or faltered, and to the day of his death he always planned and acted as if what he was creating or doing would have eternal values. Those who knew him can only feel that it will.

My published books:

See my published books