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Paper Trail - Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION of prints from the collection of Dr Vito Merlini, Paper Trail: Prints from the Merlini Collection, will be on display at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art from April 16 to June 15, 2008. It will be the second exhibition in the Estorick’s 10th anniversary year.

Vito Merlini worked as a doctor for over forty years in his home town of Peccioli, in the heart of Tuscany, and developed a close bond with the community which always held him in great affection. He began to collect etchings and lithographs after the Second World War, his first acquisition being a lithograph by Ardengo Soffici (1879-1964) and the second Cane rosso (Red Dog), a lithograph of 1962 by Giuseppe Viviani (1898-1965).

Over the years, with the encouragement of his wife Rosanna and his friend Dino Carlesi, the poet and art critic who knew many of the greatest 20th century Italian artists, Merlini’s collection grew and by the year 2000 comprised around one thousand works. These include prints by both Italian and international artists from de Chirico to Mirò, from Guttuso to Sutherland, but the Estorick exhibition will feature only those by Italian artists.

Towards the end of his life Vito Merlini donated 279 works from his collection to his home town and June 16, 2006, the Museo Collezione di Incisioni e Litografie – Donazione Vito Merlini was inaugurated at the Palazzo Fondi Rustici in Peccioli. Vito Merlini died in September 2007.

Paper Trail: Prints from the Merlini Collection comprises 55 works on paper in a variety of printmaking techniques. The Merlini Collection, like that of Eric and Salome Estorick, possesses a homogeneity characterised by a general preference for figurative art and defined by an undoubted eye for quality.

Among the artists represented in the exhibition are Carla Accardi, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio de Chirico, Renato Guttuso, Giacomo Manzù, Aligi Sassu, Mario Tozzi and Emilio Vedova. Also occupying an important place are Tuscan artists, or those who have explored Tuscan imagery, such as Mino Maccari, Marino Marini, Ardengo Soffici and Giuseppe Viviani.

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) was the originator of Metaphysical painting which, although short-lived, greatly influenced the Surrealists. Born in Greece, he trained in Athens, Florence and Munich and moved to Italy in 1910. Some of his most distinctive works feature horses on surreal seashores with broken classical columns, perfectly exemplified by Cavalli (Horses), a lithograph in the exhibition.

Carlo Carrà (1881-1966) met de Chirico in 1917, in a military hospital for nervous diseases in Ferrara, where they collaborated on Metaphysical painting. Carrà is represented in the exhibition by a lithograph entitled Donna col cesto (Woman with Basket) from 1927.

There are six works in the exhibition by Marino Marini (1901-80) including Gioco di arlecchini (Harlequins’ Game), an etching and drypoint of 1970. Marini was one of the outstanding Italian sculptors of the 20th century as well as a painter, lithographer and etcher.

He travelled widely throughout Europe, notably to Paris, which brought him into contact with many distinguished artists including Braque, Picasso and Giacometti, but he never allied himself with any avant-garde movements. He concentrated on a few main themes, most notably the horse and rider, a subject which is also represented here.

Giacomo Manzù (1908-91) is another sculptor, painter and printmaker who worked mainly outside the avant-garde. His subject matter included nudes, portraits, scenes from everyday life and, in particular, religious subjects – his most famous work being a set of bronze doors made for St Peter’s in Rome. There are three etchings and aquatints of 1970 by him in the exhibition – Coppia in amore (Couple in Love), Head of Oedipus I and Lovers IV.

Mino Maccari (1898–1989) is generally considered to be one of the most significant Italian printmakers and illustrators of the 20th century. He is best known for being the co-founder and subsequently the director and principal illustrator of the satirical journal Il Selvaggio (1924).

He adhered to the artistic and literary movement known as Strapaese which defended ‘authentic’ rural traditions and his work, characterised by the use of lively, unbridled and joyous mark-making, satirised politics and the bourgeoisie. He is represented by an untitled blue and yellow woodcut depicting figures climbing ladders.

Carla Accardi (b.1924) moved from her native Sicily to Rome in 1946, where she met Attardi, Consagra, Sanfilippo, Turcato, Dorazio, Guerrini and Perilli. With them she signed the manifesto Forma I in April 1947, which opened a debate between abstract and neo-realist artists. Accardi’s work focuses on the relationship between sign and colour, complex clusters of white or coloured forms standing out against luminescent monochrome backgrounds, as in the 1963 lithograph, Gioco di forme (Play of Forms).

Mario Tozzi (1895-1979) joined the Valori Plastici group in 1921 and was later associated with the Novecento school. In Paris, with de Chirico, de Pisis and Severini, he was one of the principal figures of the so-called Ecole Italienne de Paris, becoming an important bridge between Italian and French figurative art. Many of his etchings, including the one on view, Figure (Figures), elaborated a quasi-Metaphysical style, incorporating geometric compositions with unusual perspectives.

Luigi Veronesi (1908-98) held his first solo exhibition in 1932 with a series of woodcuts recalling certain aspects of the work of Modigliani and Sironi. Subsequently, he made his first visit to Paris and became an important link between the avant-garde of the French capital and young Italian abstract artists. His work alternated between a geometric rigour – as can be seen in Construction, the 1977 etching in the exhibition – and a freer use of abstraction incorporating more organic, natural forms.

Paper Trail: Prints from the Merlini Collection will offer a personal yet comprehensive overview of 20th century Italian graphic art, complementing the Estorick’s own representative collection of painting and sculpture from the same era.

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.

Times: Wednesday to Saturday – 11am to 6pm; Sunday – 12 noon to 5pm.

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

For more information call 020 7704 9522 or visit the website.