Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

39a Canonbury Square N1 2AN 

The Estorick Collection is a fine example of something which does exactly what it says on the tin.  It is very easy to get to, being a brief step away from Highbury and Islington Station.  So Linda and I met via different bits of the Overground, and paused to hope that Mary was having good weather in North Wales.

The Estorick is housed in a Georgian terrace house, of which the top floor is a library rather than a gallery space.  The ground floor has a modern extension, which is where the current special exhibition is displayed, and that's where we went first. There were two rooms of works by Amedeo Modigliani, mostly drawings and mostly from the collection of Richard Nathanson.  Many of them had been owned by Paul Alexandre, a close friend and early patron of Modi (as he sometimes signed himself)

The drawings were quite early works, and  only a few of them had the elongated forms that we, like many people, associate with the artist.  Several were the merest sketches, such as one might expect an art student to produce.  We were also amused to see that he used both sides of the pages of his sketch books, obviously thinking about his drawing and not the potential saleability of product. The information on the walls said that, although Modigliani lived in Paris, he was not excited by the work of Braque and Picasso, preferring to look for a way to show timeless beauty, as exemplified by the Egyptian works he studied in the Louvre.  This meant that the drawing on display were often the merest outline of naked women, occasionally with more detail around the face.

He was also clearly interested in the caryatid form, and there were several sketches of women with their arms raised as if load-bearing.

Some of the works, including a couple of interesting oil portraits, were from the collection amassed by Eric and Salome Estorick, who travelled Europe looking for art works in the years after the Second World War.

The rest of the Collection is the result of their single minded interest in Italian Futurist Art, and is displayed upstairs.  Many of the artists represented here were followers of Marinetti's Manifesto of 1909, which you can read here, and felt that Art Galleries and Museums were like cemeteries of the spirit, and artists should concentrate on crowds, machinery and so on.  Many of these artists were also Fascists, which of course made living and working in Mussolini's Italy more straightforward for them.

 We saw works by Soffici, Balla and Rosso.  We were rather taken with Massimo Campigli's shop windows and canvases divided into boxes, almost like early blueprints for Joseph Cornell.

Upstairs again, we came to several works by Zoran Music.  He came from what is now Slovenia, but spent some time in the concentration camp at Dachau, which may help to explain the dark feel of some of his pictures, including a strange depiction of horses turning into houses

A self portrait by Corrado Govoni gave us a chance to practise our Italian, as it is a schematic drawing of a face with commentary added about each of the different features.

Most of the artists represented at the Estorick Collection have works in other, better known and more visited galleries, but the singlemindedness of the couple means that is a remarkably rich collection.

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