Magazine of art press and reviews from London
David Franchi – Wednesday, 4th February 2015.
‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is a fascinating exhibition, at the Estorick Collection, London.
This is the first major exhibition in the UK for almost 20 years about the Italian artist. Renato Guttuso is one of post-war Italy’s most significant painters. His work was iconic for many artists as well as for common people. For decades he expressed the sense of discomfort of people. As he lived in the UK, his connection with the country is strong.
The Estorick exhibition is organised in collaboration with Galleria d’Arte Maggiore, Bologna (Italy). ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is the first major exhibition in the United Kingdom to focus on the career of this important artist for almost twenty years. It offers to the British public the opportunity to explore the work of a key figure in modern Italian culture.
The exhibition is organised in the three rooms of the Estorick Collection. The first is ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of modern Life’ a general survey on the artist and his work.
Aldo Renato Guttuso was born in Bagheria, near Palermo, in Sicily, on 26th December 1911. His father was a watercolourist, and so an inspiration to little Renato, who started to paint as early as he was thirteen years old and firstly exhibited when he was just seventeen (1928).
The Guttuso were a liberal family, so they had many difficulties during the Fascism. However, Renato managed to go to the university. He was also able to join art movements and to spark life in the Italian art world suffocated by the regime.
During the early 1930s Guttuso moved to Milan. Then he travelled between Milan and Palermo and in Rome he got in contact with the movement of the Scuola Romana. In 1937, he settled in Rome.
At the Estorick exhibition, the room ‘Corrente and the Art of the War Years’ shows the period of Guttuso involved in the group Corrente. The members came together around a magazine with the same name founded in Milan in 1938. The Corrente group referred to the Scapigliati, which literally means ‘dishevelled’ or ‘unkempt’ – an Italian bohemian movement born in the 1860s. Corrente opposed to the official culture of the regime, refusing the cultural isolationism of the Fascism. The importance of Corrente is to have laid the foundation of the Realism movement, which was to dominate the Italian cultural panorama in the post war.
In the 1940 Guttuso became a member of the clandestine PCI (Communist Italian Party). Many of his works were
commercialised in the clandestine market, because the thematic were anti – Nazis and anti- fascist, but also anti – clericalist. However, he continued to participate and winning prizes in exhibitions supported by the government. During the Second World War years, next to members of the Communist Party, Guttuso actively participated in the Resistance.
The room ‘The Post- war period’ shows that in the late 1940s and the following years, Guttuso was one of the most significant artists, who also shaped a style ruling Italian culture. Determinedly popular, his imagery continued to chronicle Italy’s frequently turbulent political life and the changing of its society for over 40 years. The Realism found favour in the PCI (Italian Communist Party).
In 1947 Guttuso joined the Fronte Nuovo delle Arti a movement polemic against the formalist tendencies of many abstract artists, from which he split later.
Strongly confident about his beliefs that art should be ‘useful’, Guttuso continued to use his vigorous and accessible style to socio-political themes over the course of his career.
During his life, Guttuso loyally remained a member of the PCI, the Italian Communist Party, for which he even realised the emblem used until the dissolution of the party in 1991. He was also elected twice (1976 and 1979) member of the Parliament in the Senato chamber.
In the Post- war period, Guttuso was internationally recognised as artist and politician. In 1950, he received the Peace Prize by the World Peace Council. A number of monographic exhibitions were organised outside of Italy, including London (1950 and 1955), New York (1958), Paris (1971) and Moscow (1961).
At the Estorick exhibition, a special area is dedicated to ‘Guttuso in Britain’. In the years following the war, he was very well considered in the British art world. He found a strong support in the Marxist critic, John Berger, and friendship with Roland Penrose and Kenneth Clark, and of course Eric Estorick. A number of letters and documents on display at ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ show these relationships he had.
The third room upstairs, ‘A friendship across Europe: Renato Guttuso and Peter de Francia’ is focused on the relationship between the two artists, who met in Italy during the post war. The British artist De Francia (1921 – 2012) was born and brought up in France, and lived in Italy for a while. He was painter, teacher and writer. He exhibited widely in Milan, London, New York and Delhi. He was teaching in the Royal College of Art. His works are currently on display at the Tate, V&A Museum, MoMA, and the British Museum. Guttuso wrote and introduction to De Francia exhibition in New York (1962).
Guttuso died in Rome, on 18th January 1987. Before his death, it seems he was reconnecting to the Roman Catholic religion. He now rests in his hometown Bagheria, at the Villa Cattolica, where a museum dedicated to him and his work has been established.
The exhibition ‘Renato Guttuso: Painter of Modern Life’ is ongoing, at the Estorick Collection, Canonbury, London, until the 4th April 2015.