Italy in London

In between the lockdowns and the tiers I managed a day trip to London a few months ago, meeting up with a couple of friends to go to one of my favourite galleries, the Estorick, whose collection is made up entirely of modern Italian art. It was in fact the last actual exhibition I saw and the memory of it to has helped me through these art-starved months of Lockdown 3.  Even the claustrophobia-inducing masks and the social distancing couldn’t dampen our pleasure as we made our way round the exhibition, Italian Threads: MITA Textile Design 1926-76.

Estorick - Italian threadsWe learnt that MITA was a celebrated Italian textile firm, which collaborated with the country’s most talented artists.  This collaboration encompassed the avant-garde movements of the day from Futurism to Abstract Expressionism, with work by artists such as Arturo Martini, Amaldo Pomodoro and Gio Ponti.  Many of the artists were unknown to me and yet it was interesting how familiar were the designs and colours.  I thought this was perhaps largely due to the on-going appeal of retro furnishings, particularly from the inter-war years.

The firm had a remarkable output and the Gallery has managed to convey a sense of this diversity without the rooms being over-crowded.  The exhibition features original works, designs, swatch books, rugs, carpets, printed fabrics as well as other work by the artists involved.  One of the intriguing destinations for the firm’s fabrics was the luxury liner market, which one artist described as “floating art galleries”.


smartOne of the pleasures of being in the Estorick, is that the exhibition programme is always complemented in other rooms by works from their permanent collection.  It is a wax and plaster sculpture that always lifts my heart.  It was made in 1893 by Medardo Rosso, entitled Impressions of the Boulevard, Woman with a Veil.  One can find detailed biographies of all the Estorick artists on their website and the one for Rosso tells us that in his work he attempted to “capture fleeting expressions” and “to establish a new relationship between the figure and its environment, endowing ‘empty’ space with tangible form”.  To my mind this is all dramatically achieved in the Woman with a Veil.  I particularly love how from the back you can see the hollowness and the negative form of the plaster cast.

smartAn artist whose work I hadn’t seen before was Emilio Greco, whose dynamic ink drawings I found really appealing.  There was also a large sculpture by him, which at first glance looked as if there was the head of another person behind her.
But it turned out to be a large ‘bun’ of her hair.  smartThe hands are also sculpturally unusual in that
they are quite flat, as if they are pressed into her flesh.

A totally unexpected treat was a display of small etchings by Giorgio Morandi, all showing his exquisite attention to the detail in humble objects.  I hadn’t known that printmaking was such an important part of his practice and in my ignorance had only thought of him as the master of still life painting.





Days after my visit, the Gallery had to close again but when it re-opens (hopefully in May), the Italian Textiles exhibition will still be on as it has been extended until 20 June 2021.  More information can be found here The Gallery has a beautiful garden and a good café, plus a small bookshop.