After our visit to the Courtauld Gallery, we caught the tube to Highbury and Islington, a part of London we’d never ventured to before. Our objective was the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, a short walk from the tube station on Canonbury Square, which crosses Canonbury Road.
It’s a small gallery housed in a Georgian house, founded by Eric and Salome Estorick, an ex-patriot American sociologist and writer and his wife, who developed a passion for Twentieth Century Italian art. We’d spotted the gallery on a website which lists two for one offers for various attractions in London for people travelling to the Capital by train (we’ve taken advantage of several of these during this and previous trips). The Gallery looked interesting and a browse of their website suggested we’d probably enjoy a visit. We certainly did too. It was a real find and we’re really glad we came across it and made the trip up to Islington.
Works from the permanent collection were displayed in four rooms on the first and second floors. There was a temporary exhibition of photographs by the Italian photographer Giorgio Casali on the ground floor. The Gallery reminded me of the Abbot Hall Gallery in Kendal – Modernist paintings and other works displayed in intimate rooms in a Georgian House. Like the Abbot Hall there isn’t room to display all the works from the collection so they are shown on rotation. And like the Abbot Hall it wasn’t crowded so it was possible to contemplate the works at leisure.
The Collection features mainly painting and sculpture from 1895 to the 1950s, including a number of early Futurist paintings. Futurism as a movement has been tarnished somewhat by some of it’s members, including it’s founder, the writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, dabbling with Fascism. However it would be wrong to tar all Futurists with this brush. Some of them were Anarchists or Socialists and anti-Fascist.
Futurist art wasn’t defined by it’s style but by it’s subject matter. They adopted the style developed by other schools of art, particularly Cubism – I’ve seen it described as “Cubism on speed” – and, before that, “Divisionism”. Their work rejected the styles of the past and celebrated speed, technology, youth and violence. The Futurist paintings in the collection are from 1909 to 1916, the early years of the movement. They include Umberto Boccioni’s Modern Idol (1911), Carlo Carrà’s Leaving the Theatre (1910), Luigi Russolo’s Music (1911), Gino Severini’s The Boulevard (1910-11) and Giacamo Balla’s The Hand of the Violinist (1912).
I liked the way Boccioni’s shows the effect of coloured light on the face of the young woman under her large hat covered with flowers in his painting Modern Idol from 1911.
and the multiple images of the violinist’s hand Giacamo Balla’s The Hand of the Violinist (1912) really conveys the rapid movements and reminds me of the effects shown in photographs by Edwearde Muybridge.
(Picture source Wikipaintings)
But the collection isn’t just about Futurism. There are works by other artists, including Modgliani whose painting Doctor Francois Brabander (1918) was on display.
I particularly liked this painting, Horses and Landscape (1951), by the Slovenian artist Zoran Music (a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp), who worked in Italy after the Second World War.
The Gallery own a number of his paintings, but this was the only one on display during our visit.
There was some sculpture on display too, including two bronze’s by Emilio Greco. Crouching nude (1956)
and Head of a woman (1953).
Although clearly Modernist works the influence of Etruscan art was evident.
This bronze, Bust of a woman (1952) by Giacamo Manzu was quite similar in style
The Collection also includes prints, some by Futurists,
and including a large number by Giorgio Morandi, best known for his still life painings of pots and jugs. Estorick was clearly a big fan.
Still Life with Jugs (1956) by Giorgio Morandi
After looking aaround the first and second floors we decided we needed a drink and a bite to eat. The Gallery has an excellent little cafe selling some rather delicious looking Italian style dishes and tempting cakes. We treated ourselves and managing to find a table outside in the small courtyard relaxed for a while in the afternoon sunshine.
Feeling rejuvenated we looked round the temporary exhibition and then had another look at the works from the permanent collection.
London is full of major Galleries with temporary and permanent exhibitions showing an incredible number of works by a massive range of artists. This Gallery was a real find. There were some excellent works on display in pleasant surroundings in an attractive building. And although I hadn’t come across most of the artists, I certainly want to find out more about them – purchasing the catalogue, which was reasonably priced, was a good start. This somewhere we’ll be going back to, and probably not too far in the distant future. I quite like the look of their next temporary exhibition which will be devoted to the works of Emilio Greco and which takes place from September to December. Another visit is likely to be on the agenda the next time we’re down in the big Smoke.