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Double Portrait: Zoran Music and Ida Barbarigo

Photograph of Ida Barbarigo and Zoran Music in Venice studio, 1965

Exhibition preview

THE INTERTWINED artistic lives of husband and wife painters Zoran Music and Ida Barbarigo will be explored in an exhibition comprising some twenty-five works as well as photographs and ephemera at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from April 13 to June 12, 2011.

An exhibition about Barbarigo and Music at the Estorick Collection has a particular resonance because of their relationship with Eric and Salome Estorick, who built the museum’s permanent collection of modern Italian art – described by Sir Nicholas Serota as “one of the finest collections of early 20th century Italian art anywhere in the world”.

The two couples were introduced in 1952 by the artist Massimo Campigli and became good friends. Although acquainted with many artists, it was Barbarigo and Music to whom the Estoricks grew closest, visiting each other throughout their lives and, in Barbarigo’s case, remaining a friend of the family to this day.

The Estoricks acquired works by both artists and by the time of Eric Estorick’s death in 1993, when the future of the collection and access for the public had been secured, five works by Zoran Music formed (and continue to form) an important part of it.

Zoran Music and Ida Barbarigo met in Trieste in the spring of 1944, when Barbarigo was persuaded by a friend to visit an exhibition of paintings by an artist whom she described as ‘a handsome chap’. After this, Ida found that she kept on bumping into him and soon ‘very shyly he plucked up the courage to ask for my telephone number, to call me sometime’.

However, romance was soon put on hold. The area was, at the time, occupied by Nazi forces and in October 1944 Music was arrested – reputedly taken as a spy and accused of collaborating with dissidents. He was questioned and attempts were made to recruit him to the SS. When he refused, he was sent to Dachau.

Zoran Music (1909-2005) was born in Gorizia on the Italian-Slovenian border into a Mitteleuropa world shaped by the Austro-Hungarian empire. In his youth he spent time in many different countries. The family was evacuated during the First World War to the Austrian province of Styria.

He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb in the 1930s, then travelled to Spain in 1935, where he stayed until the civil war broke out, copying works by Goya and El Greco in the museums. He also spent time on the Dalmatian coast, where the rocky hills of the Karst would have a profound influence on his palette.

Music moved to Venice first in 1943 and he returned there in 1945 after his internment in Dachau. He found on his return that he was ‘dazzled by the Venetian light, by the cast sky and the huge horizon around the lagoon. I couldn’t believe I was free and that I could work freely without having to cut up my drawings and hide them under my shirt’.

The lifelong effect of his experience of a concentration camp was not immediately obvious in his painting – ‘when I came out of the camp and went back to Venice, I painted pictures that were full of light and happiness and gaiety’. However, the effect was there indirectly as he found, when he came to paint the bare hills around Siena, that ‘these whitish mounds reminded me of the piles of corpses that had been part of everyday life at the camp.’

‘Without Dachau,’ Music felt, ‘I would have been a merely illustrative painter. After Dachau, I had to go to the heart of things.’ Music had drawn secretly during his time in the camp, but only a handful of the 300 drawings he made there survived and it was not until the early 1970s that he approached the subject again.

‘All of a sudden,’ he explained, ‘I had to return to Dachau. What emerged was the series We Are Not the Last. It has been said that something similar could never happen again. Never again. But many years on, I have seen that we were not the last.’

The jumbled landscapes of corpses in these works are harrowing, but also reflect the ‘terrible beauty’ and ‘tragic elegance’ that Music found in such scenes, and which was to haunt him for the rest of his life.

Ida Barbarigo (1925-) was born into a family of Venetian artists stretching back to the 16th century. Her father, Guido Cadorin, was also a successful painter. Barbarigo (although born Ida Cadorin, she later adopted the pseudonym Barbarigo) studied at the Academy of Fine Art in Venice, an experience she found ‘both useful and useless. Those who naturally know how to draw do not need to learn, and those who go to learn are not born artists.’

The couple married in 1949. Although Barbarigo did not believe in marriage or want to start a family, she ‘simply wanted to establish a noble, true bond with a person I truly admired’. They remained happily married, a relationship based on mutual trust and respect, but continued to lead quite separate lives.

They maintained separate studios and, until shortly before Music’s death, even separate apartments, meeting to dine together and to discuss the day’s events each evening. Barbarigo was Music’s muse and the subject of many of his paintings; the sharing of ideas and techniques is also clear in their work, but this degree of separateness allowed them both to develop and flourish as artists in their own right.

Having won the Paris Prize, organised by the Italian Institute of Culture in Paris, in 1951, Music was offered a contract by the Galerie de France and the couple moved to Paris in 1952. To live in Paris had been a dream of Barbarigo’s since childhood – she had even called her favourite doll ‘the Parisian’ – but the influence of Venice remained.

Barbarigo described herself as, ‘A piece of Venice, pure and simple! Like all Venetians wandering around who feel just like I do, like pieces of Venice on the road. Even when I was living in Paris, with Music, I felt like a fragment of Venice in transit.’

Venice continued to inform her painting (the Chairs series, on which she worked in the 1950s, was inspired by café chairs in Saint Mark’s Square, Venice) and the couple continued to have apartments in Venice. A pattern of regular alternation between Paris and Venice emerged that, for Barbarigo, continued until very recently.

For the first time, the story of these two connected yet distinct artists, which provides a fascinating reflection on their tumultuous times, will be told in the UK. The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same title by the curator, Giovanna Dal Bon, available from the Estorick shop for £35.

Double Portrait Gallery

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

From Morandi to Guttuso: Masterpieces from the Alberto Della Ragione Collection continues at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art until April 3, 2011.