One hundred years since its founding, the Galleria d’arte moderna di Palazzo Pitti exhibits and recounts its twentieth-century collections: “a century of innovative fervour, of rifts in culture (and not only), of tragedies and reconstructions, a century that guided contemporaneity in the arts, our XXI century, profoundly modelled by those inherited experiences” (Cristina Acidini).

To celebrate the centennial of its foundation, the Galleria d’arte moderna di Palazzo Pitti has decided to dedicate an exhibition to the museum’s twentieth-century collections.

In fact, though the Galleria d’arte moderna is principally known as the museum with the vastest and most important collection of paintings by masters of the Macchiaioli movement in the world, both historically and in terms of quality, few people are acquainted with the collection of twentieth-century works till today held in storage.

The exhibition thus prepares to draw attention to this museum within the museum that has till now been unseen due to the lack of exhibiting space: “like the lights of a beacon (…) that goes on and off on the collections of this museum: in a sort of alternating current that enables us to present the most significant selections of the entire patrimony (…)” (Simonella Condemi).

The historicist perspective of the show will enable us to recount the tempos and means that have characterised the acquisitions of artworks in the Gallery over the course of the past century and thereby illustrate the cultural ferment underway in Florence at that time.

This is more than an exhibition though. It is the test run for a museum itinerary of mostly unseen masterpieces from the past century that on conclusion of the show we hope can finally find a stable placement in the last rooms along the inner façade of the Galleria d’arte moderna di Palazzo Pitti. Such has been the case for the twentieth-century collections of the Commune of Florence that have recently found exhibiting space in the Museo Novecento in the Leopoldine Complex.

The important Bequest that critic Diego Martelli, a confrere of the Macchiaiolo movement, left to the museum in 1896 stressed the necessity that Florence, like Rome and Venice, should have a Gallery where the proposals of modern art could be presented to the public. The collection of works by important exponents of Tuscan nineteenth-century art, especially by exponents of the Macchiaioli art movement, therefore needed a worthy venue in an itinerary that also included the novelties of contemporary art currents.

In March 1913, the permanent under-secretary of the ministry Arduino Colasanti inaugurated the first, though small section dedicated to modern art in seven rooms of the Galleria dell’Accademia of Florence, which eleven years later, in June 1924, arrived in Palazzo Pitti, its current museum venue. The various origins of the artworks of this section, consisting mainly of the product of painting competitions held by the Accademia or from the Lorraine and Savoia collections, could already critically illustrate the long and complex history that led up to the museum’s founding. We are referring to historical phases that preceded and prepared the later season that culminated in the Convention between the State and Commune of Florence, stipulated in June 1914. An exhibition space adequate for a collection in continuous growth still remained to be found though.

The artworks donated, in addition to the acquisitions made from the very beginning in view of forming the itinerary of a future museum enable us to understand the criteria of choice adopted by the still operative Commission that was instituted and legally provided for by the Convention whose mission is to enrich the museum patrimony along precise critical guidelines.

Installations and choices

The selection of the works to exhibit has centred on those by the principal interpreters of twentieth-century Italian figurative culture: Felice Carena, Felice Casorati, Giorgio De Chirico, Filippo De Pisis, Gino Severini, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Guido Peyron, and Ottone Rosai. These alternate with the more numerous works by the exponents of the “Novecento Toscano” of Baccio Maria Bacci, Giovanni Colacicchi and the other members of the group that revolved around the magazine Solaria and the frequent haunt of Florentine culture, the “Giubbe Rosse” café, which made the city a fertile meeting ground of the best Italian artists and intellectuals in the 1920s.

The works on show include the purchases made at the various editions of the Venice Biennale from 1925 to 1945, at the Rome Quadriennale of 1935, the many more numerous works purchased locally at the Società di Belle Arti di Firenze and, especially, at the Sindacali Toscane shows dedicated to the regional figurative culture. Among the artists, let us cite Giovanni Colacicchi, Ottone Rosai, Alberto Magnelli, Oscar Ghiglia, Achille Lega, Ardengo Soffici, Lorenzo Viani, Libero Andreotti, Italo Griselli, etc.

No less important than these entries were the artworks that reached the museum as gifts, testifying with their growing frequency to an increasingly closer tie between the Galleria d’arte moderna and the city.

The years following World War II were characterised by stagnation in the Commission’s purchasing activity. As of 1950 though, and for twenty years thereafter, the Galleria updated its twentieth-century collections thanks to the entry of the award-winning works of the “Premio del Fiorino”, which the Award’s very bylaws destined to the museum.

These works, moreover, are the only effective token of the Italian figurative culture of those years and represent a significant increase in paintings by Felice Casorati, Filippo De Pisis, Primo Conti, Fausto Pirandello, Vinicio Berti, Fernando Farulli, Sergio Scatizzi, and Corrado Cagli.

The Commission’s deliberate interest in contemporaneity is documented in the purchases made extraordinarily at the II Esposizione Internazionale della Grafica del “Fiorino” in 1970: Burri and Jasper Johns.

The itinerary ends with the presentation of the latest acquisitions made by the Commission in the past thirty years of its activity, from 1985 until today: including, Confidenze by Armando Spadini, Masquerade by Mario Cavaglieri, formerly in the Longhi Collection, and a beautiful View of Grizzana by Giorgio Morandi, dedicated to his friend Ragghianti.

Most of the paintings exhibited have been subjected to conservative restoration especially for this showing, indeed 88 of the 120 exhibited. The restoration campaign was demanding both in terms of economic and coordination resources, and was directed by assistant director of the Galleria d’arte moderna, Rosanna Morozzi.

To complete the panorama that the exhibition delineates, the Andito degli Angiolini will host a wide selection of graphic works that were presented at the famed Esposizione Internazionale del Bianco e Nero held at the Società di Belle Arti in Florence in May 1914. Moreover, graphics received a more daring and immediate comparison with the international novelties. This section, which will open on November 25th, is curated by Rossella Campana with the collaboration of Rosanna Morozzi and Giorgio Marini, under the direction of Simonella Condemi, and documents the qualitative level and international scope of the works presented on that occasion.

The eloquent exhibition, curated by Simonella Condemi and Ettore Spalletti who also edited the catalogue published by Sillabe, is promoted by the Ministero dei beni e delle attività culturali e del turismo through the Direzione Regionale per i Beni Culturali e Paesaggistici della Toscana, the Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze, the Galleria d’arte moderna di Palazzo Pitti, Firenze Musei, the Commune of Florence, and Ente Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.