The last time the British public saw a solo exhibition of Sicilian painter Renato Guttuso was in 1996 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. It is therefore with great interest that, last Tuesday, we went to the opening of the new exhibition “Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life” at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Islington. The exhibition is a collaboration with Galleria d’Arte Maggiore Bologna.
If you have not yet visited the Estorick Collection, this is a good time to do so. Eric Estorick was born in Brooklyn and studied sociology at NYU. He moved to England after the Second World War. Early in his life, he developed an interest for the art and, specifically, a passion for Italian Modern Art. He later became an art dealer and accumulated an important collection, well-known for its futurist works and Italian figurative painting and sculpture. His collection includes works by Modigliani, Boccioni, Severini, Morandi and Gottuso. Death of a Hero was painted by Guttuso in 1953 and, as part of the permanent collection, is displayed in the new show alongside many loans from Italy.
Born in 1911 in Bagheria, Guttuso enrolled at the University of Palermo to read law but abandoned his studies in 1931 to concentrate on his paintings. A political activist, he participated in the anti-Fascist resistance during the war and became an important Communist artist looking to transmit powerful realism through his paintings. He met Picasso in Paris and their friendship lasted until Picasso's death. He was also active as an art critic, contributing articles on the theory of art, particularly on realism, for various Italian and international publications. In the fifties, London dealers were keen to exhibit Guttuso regardless of their political affiliations. He had many supporters, including the radical art critic John Berger, author of the iconic book titled “Ways of Seeing”. Tate bought a piece in 1961.
To create his landscapes, still life paintings and narrative paintings, the Italian artist uses a vibrant palette of color. His palette is qualified as Sicilian by the art historian Maurizio Calvesi, “like the fire of Etna, like the turquoise of the Tyrrhenian Sea, like the green of the lizards and the twisted vegetation [and] like the yellow of the oranges and the sulphur.”
The exhibition shows a series of correspondence (postcards and letters) between Guttuso and Estorick. In 1955, one portrait was dedicated “to Mr Eric Estorick, friend of modern Italian art with great affection”.
Still Life with Lamp is one of the series of still life paintings created in the early 40s, juxtaposing unexpected objects such as a birdcage, an animal skull with a glass, a coffee pot and a basket. Everything seems chaotic and violent in this painting.
Several rooftop paintings are also shown in the exhibition, some with geometrically abstract forms and bright colors. The composition of Rooftops in Rome is particularly successful in creating a kind of web between the various houses.
Guttuso designed various sceneries and costumes for the theatre and the opera, such as for Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Verdi's Macbeth.
Neighborhood Rally, a later work, mixes painted faces with collages. It features a local crowd with celebrities amongst them, such as Marilyn Monroe on the left and Picasso on the balcony to the right, all clapping with their hands facing the speaker.
The exhibition can be seen until the 4th of April 2015, and is open until 9 pm on the first Thursday of each month. http://www.estorickcollection.com