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A Decade of Discovery - Estorick Collection

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

THE ESTORICK Collection of Modern Italian Art – described by Sir Nicholas Serota, Director of the Tate, as “one of the finest collections of early 20th century Italian art anywhere in the world” – is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a diverse programme of exhibitions. The first, A Decade of Discovery: Ten Years of the Estorick Collection, is on display from January 16 to April 6, 2008.

The Estorick Collection comprises some 120 paintings, drawings, watercolours, prints and sculptures by many of the most prominent Italian artists of the modernist era. It opened to the public on January 28, 1998, in a Georgian Grade II listed building at 39a Canonbury Square, London N1, which had been refurbished with a substantial grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The gallery was named Best Museum of Fine or Applied Art in the 1999 National Heritage/NPI Museum of the Year Awards and was a Highly Commended Small Attraction in the 2003 London Tourism Awards. It has a library of over 2,000 books, primarily on 20th century Italian art, as well as a shop and café, making it an unrivalled resource for students of important modernist movements such as Futurism and Pittura Metafisica.

The anniversary provides an ideal opportunity to take a fresh look at the richness of the Estorick’s permanent collection in its entirety. For A Decade of Discovery: Ten Years of the Estorick Collection, all six galleries will be re-hung, enabling a group of ten works by Massimo Campigli to be shown for the first time. These include a delicate coloured lithograph entitled Shop Windows (1945), The Painter (1932) – a humorous self portrait of the artist seated beneath a parasol next to his easel – and a series of bold black and white prints inspired by themes from antiquity.

Additionally, the display will be enhanced by important works loaned from Italian and British collections, including works by Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Renato Guttuso, Amedeo Modigliani, Giorgio Morandi, Ottone Rosai, Gino Severini and Mario Sironi.

Since the Estorick Collection opened, a number of acquisitions have been made, most notably an early portrait of the artist Carlo Fontana by Giacomo Balla (1907), which pre-dates his involvement with the Futurists and reveals a masterly handling of the Divisionist technique.

Other works include a Self-portrait of 1915 by Corrado Govoni – which uses words to describe the features of the artist verbally as well as visually – and a small but important ink study for the painting Rising Forces by Gerardo Dottori, one of the key figures of the second wave of Futurist activity after World War One. All of these works will be on display in the exhibition.

Eric Estorick (1913-93) was an American sociologist and writer who began to collect works of art when he came to live in England after the Second World War. Born in Brooklyn, Estorick studied at New York University during the early 1930s, when he discovered The Gallery of Living Art, containing masterpieces by Picasso, Léger, Miró and Matisse, which inspired him to become a collector.

On a visit to Europe in 1946, he began to buy drawings by such artists as Picasso, Gris, Léger and Braque. In October 1947 he married Salome Dessau, and during their honeymoon in Switzerland, Estorick discovered Umberto Boccioni’s book Futurist Painting and Sculpture (1914) which marked the beginning of his passion for Italian art.

They travelled to Italy on many occasions during the late 1940s and 1950s, meeting and befriending major artists of the day, including Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi and Zoran Music. The Eric and Salome Estorick Foundation was set up in 1993 to not only manage the permanent collection but also to stage temporary loan exhibitions and educational events.

Since opening, the Collection has established a considerable reputation as an important venue for bringing Italian art to the British public and has achieved both public and critical acclaim for its artistic and educational programmes. To date it has attracted over 150,000 visitors and hosted 36 innovative exhibitions.

They range from those devoted to Italian Futurists such as Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini to important shows addressing the social and political dimensions of artistic activity, including Under Mussolini: Decorative and Propaganda Arts of the Twenties and Thirties. Other major artists highlighted have included Giorgio de Chirico, Giorgio Morandi, Zoran Music, Mario Sironi, Lucio Fontana, Fortunato Depero and Carlo Carrà.

A Decade of Discovery will be followed by:

Paper Trail: Prints from the Merlini Collection (April 16 to June 15, 2008), a striking selection of works on paper from this extraordinary and highly personal survey of 20th century Italian printmaking.

Daring to be Different: 55 Years of Missoni (June 25 to September 14, 2008), celebrating the life and work of the legendary Missoni family, whose colourful designs, characterised by stripes and zig-zag patterns, have become iconic statements of 20th century fashion.

European Photomontage (September 24 to December 21, 2008) which, following the success of the 2005 Avant-garde Graphics exhibition, will include a large number of seminal works by such revolutionary artists as Hannah Höch, John Heartfield and Bruno Munari.

To mark the 10th anniversary of this distinctive collection, a new catalogue of the permanent collection, including texts by Michael Estorick and Roberta Cremoncini, will be published by Gangemi Editore, and an updated website will be launched. And to enable visitors to make the most of A Decade of Discovery: Ten Years of the Estorick Collection, the gallery will remain open until 8pm every Thursday for the duration of the exhibition.

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London, N1 2AN.

Times: Wednesday to Saturday – 11am to 6pm. Late night opening on Thursdays until 8pm. Sunday – 12 noon to 5pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Shop – open gallery hours. Library – by appointment only.

Admission: £3.50, £2.50 concessions. Free to under-16s and students on production of a valid NUS card. Library (by appointment only) – £2.50 per visit.