Built in the mid-18th century for the Marquise Paolo Antonio Menafoglio as his family’s estate, the Villa is located in the hills surrounding Varese, just 50 minutes drive from Milano.
In 1829, it was enlarged with a series of works by his new owner, the Milanese aristocrat Pompeo Litta Visconti Arese, who commissioned the famous Architect Luigi Canonica. After a hereditary ownership transfer to the Prior family, the Villa was finally acquired in 1935 by the wine dealer and entrepreneur Ernesto Panza, who later appointed Conte di Biumo, who left it to his son Giuseppe. Undoubtedly one of the most eminent Italian art collectors, Giuseppe Panza di Biumo (1923-2010) started collecting in the early 1950s and managed to assemble more than 2500 artworks, including masterpieces of Informal art, Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptual art, and Land art. Following his idea of collecting, he used to identify the artists he was interested in and bought many works from each artist to have a deep and comprehensive vision of the work.
The Panza Collection started in Milano, with Giuseppe and his wife acquiring works for their apartment: the first works were by Italian artists Atanasio Soldati e Gino Meloni, but in 1954 he went on a long trip to the United States, and he got deeply influenced by American Art. Then, through a selected group of critics and gallerists (including Sidney Janis, Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend, and Richard Bellamy), he started collecting works from those who would become the masters of 20th-century art: Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Joseph Kosuth, Donal Judd, On Kawara, Bruce Nauman, Robert Morris (the list could be endless).
The collection grows over time, so much so it requires some adjustments of the Villa’s spaces to locate the works; by the 1970s, some parts of the Villa, such as the Rustici and the Dan Flavin installation rooms, are re-shaped to fit the Collection’s needs.
Apart from the display in the Villa, the works of the Panza Collection are exhibited in the most important international museums: from the Guggenheim Museum of New York to the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles (MOCA), the Hirshhorn Museum of Washington D.C., the Albright-Knox Art Gallery of Buffalo and the Museo Cantonale d’Arte of Lugano.
This shows the far-sightedness the artistic sense of the commitment of Giuseppe Panza di Biumo: thanks to him and thanks to FAI – Fondo Ambiente Italiano (to which the Villa was donated in 1996 and thanks to which it was restored and opened to the public in the year 2000), Villa Panza is recognized to be one of the highest cultural experiences of the second half of 20th century.