Magazine article The Spectator

Italian Treats

Magazine article The Spectator

Italian Treats

Article excerpt

A Decade of Discovery Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, London N1, until 6 April

This year, as the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art celebrates its tenth anniversary, garlanded with plaudits for the loan exhibitions it has mounted, it is time to focus once again on its greatest asset: its permanent collection. This new display, occupying all six galleries, shows the collection to fine advantage, enabling a group of works by Massimo Campigli to be viewed for the first time, along with a couple of new acquisitions, and further enhanced by works loaned from British and Italian collections, mostly private individuals whose generosity must be applauded.

The exhibition starts on the ground floor with a room of the Estorick's big names -- the Futurists. The visitor is greeted by an early Giacomo Balla portrait in pastels (a private loan), not perhaps immediately recognisable as being by this artist until you study the surface of the picture, energised as it is by electric-blue touches. Medardo Rosso, the great sculptor of flux who worked in wax, is here, with another Balla portrait, in oils this time. Of the sculptor Carlo Fontana, it has the broken flickering touch of the pastel, particularly noticeable in the delicacy of the trees to the left of the sitter. This important new Estorick acquisition sits well with more typical Futurist effusions such as Carlo Carrà's 'Leaving the Theatre', Gino Severini's 'Le Boulevard' and Umberto Boccioni's 'Modern Idol', an imp of Satan high on absinthe. Most typical perhaps is Balla's 'Hand of the Violinist' with its multiplicity of images to evoke dynamism and movement.

Also in this room are notable studies such as Severini's ink drawing 'Dancer (Argentine Tango)', built from pounding, flicking strokes of the brush, Carra's altogether more mysterious and atmospheric 'Synthesis of a Café Concert', a dark maelstrom of flying staves and notes, and Severini's 'Dancer (Ballerina + Sea)', composed of blocks and wedges of blue interlocking with white and black.

Ardengo Soffici's Cubist 'Deconstruction of the Planes of a Lamp' (1912-13) is quiet in comparison, lucid and differently satisfying.

Room 2 is given over to small works on paper more densely hung. A group of drawings by Mario Sironi are forceful and dark. Look at the 'Metaphysical Figure' of 1917, a sinister mannequin with a traffic cone, or the distinctly womanly 'Futurist City'. …

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