The International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice was founded by Prince Alberto Giovannelli, who, at the second Biennale in 1897, bought six art works of both Italian and foreign artists which he then donated to the City Council of Venice. Others followed his example, such as King Vittorio Emanuele III who also contributed four canvases. The first premises of the gallery were at Ca' Foscari.
Ca' Pesaro, a sixteenth century palace on the Grand Canal designed by Baldassarre Longhena, became property of the City Council of Venice in 1899, following the death of Duchess Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa who expressed the wish to create a permanent exhibition space for the work of young artists. The Gallery of Modern Art was then moved there, and the opening took place on 18th May, 1902.
The management of Ca' Pesaro was entrusted to the Secretariat of the Biennale, but in 1907, considering the growing importance of the gallery, it was decided that a director be appointed. Nino Barbantini, a young man of just 23 years of age, took up the position. He immediately started to study a suitable positioning of the art works, choosing to organise the works into national groups.
The conflict between the Biennale and Barbantini started when Ca' Pesaro hosted its first exhibition in 1908. Fradeletto, the General Secretary of the Biennale, did not appreciate the young director's initiative. According to the wishes of Duchess Bevilacqua, Ca' Pesaro should only exhibit the work of young artists, not veterans of the Biennale. There was a polemic debate about the use of the winged Lion of Saint Mark, which was already the logo of the Biennale, on the poster for the Ca' Pesaro exhibition.
The annual exhibitions that took place at Ca' Pesaro from 1909 to 1913, merely accentuated its independence, and the antagonism with the Biennale grew stronger due to the diverse artistic criteria that the two institutions adopted. These disagreements became all the more bitter in June 1914, when a group of artists refused by the Biennale, organised a polemic exhibition at the Hotel Excelsior at Lido entitled an "Exhibition of some artists refused by the Venice Biennale". That year, out of the 621 artists who presented their work at the Biennale, only 114 were accepted. Following the exhibition of the "refusés", the rivalry between the two institutions began to fade away.