Review: Study visit to the Estorick Collection.

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Braving cold March weather, OCA students made their way to the Estorick Collection of Italian Art for a study visit. Inside the gallery, the sun shone out of the brightly coloured expressionist canvases of one of Italy’s best-loved artists, Renato Guttuso (1911-87).

He was born in Sicily and began painting at a time when Mussolini dominated Italian politics as a dictator. When Italy sided with Hitler during the 2nd World War, Guttuso fled to the hills and joined the partisans and the Communist party.

Producing politically inspired paintings that put the people and their struggle against the Fascist government to the forefront ,brought him national acclaim. His Realist canvases depicted wounded partisans as well as neighbourhood political rallies, still-lifes, landscapes and figurative compositions.

A prolific painter who spent his life reflecting the activities of his fellow citizens, their trials and tribulations, hopes and desires, his Realist approach was easily accessible to his fellow countrymen. The art historian Maurizio Calvesi describes his colours as ‘like the fire of Etna, the turquoise of the Tyrrhenian sea, the green of the lizard and the twisted vegetation (and) like the yellow of the oranges and the sulphur’.

The historical context was also brought home in the Gallery, which showed examples of the work of the Italian Futurists as well as drawings by the French born British Artist, Peter de Francia (1921-2012). De Francia worked in Guttuso’s studio for a number of years in the late 40s and early 50s. His incisive drawings, rapidly sketched in the streets and market places of Italy, reveal an affinity with his subjects that reflects the humanist approach to art that both he and Guttuso shared. He describes it as a time when ‘I have never thought so lucidly or felt so near to reality’. De Francia was later was to become Head of Fine Art at Goldsmiths College and Professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art.

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is an ideal venue for a study visit. This converted Georgian house in London’s Canonbury Square, Islington has small intimate gallery spaces that suit the domestic scale of the work on display and encourages student interaction.

The students enjoyed the day and said that they appreciated the format of the session, being given information on the artists, being encouraged to draw from the artworks and – of course – meeting fellow students. This was also an ideal opportunity to compare and exchange views.

The feedback received showed that students appreciated the clarity of focus that was put on individual pictures and the insights that this gave. They enjoyed finding out about the historical context of the work and how it fitted into the broader art world picture. They also appreciated the communication at an individual level and the interaction from the tutor and fellow students. Last but not least the Italian-run café was also a hit as it provided good Italian food at reasonable prices. The fact that Guttuso provided illustrations for Elizabeth David’s seminal book, Italian Cooking, also did not go amiss.

Study visits are an important part of OCA life and are put on regularly at venues around the country. Students interested in attending should consult the Study Visit Diary on the We Are OCA website for the latest notifications.


  1. sjdem 9 April 2015 at 9:27 pm

    It really was a great day – informative and fun with a good balance of discussion and drawing. Thank you Jim (and your wife) for drawing our attention to these important artists. Looking forward to the next one 🙂 It was also wonderful meet up with fellow students and share sketchbook ideas etc….many thanks one and all!


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