One such Museum is Museo Novecento (Twentieth Century Art Museum) of Florence which is often ignored except for passionate art lovers of the 1900’s like me. Housed in the old hospital of Saint Paolo behind the beautiful Renaissance loggia by Michelozzi. The Museum’s collection is impressive and an important representation of the period. When open the Museum also holds some interesting temporary exhibitions of International artists. However the Alberto della Ragione collection has been the major contribution to the Museum with some of Italy’s well known artists of the time.
An online presentation gave an insight into this fascinating man and somewhat unlikely art collector, Alberto della Ragione. He was a newcomer to Art, who followed his feelings and often ignored comments from art critics of the time, buying what he liked while delving into the lives of the artists who produced the work.
Born in 1892 in Piano di Sorrento near Naples, he transferred to Genoa for his profession as a naval engineer. He was highly esteemed in his profession, traveling widely around Italy to port cities where he specialized in recuperating sunken vessels. A lover of music and books he ventured into Art buying his first painting in 1928 a Still Life for his dining room. The joy it gave him, started what would become a lifetime passion for Art and a great distraction from his work.
His spare time became consumed studying Art, visiting exhibitions, being disappointed in some and wanting to understand more about the actual artists active at the time, particularly those not approved of by the fascist regime.
The major part of his collection was bought between 1932-45 crucial years of political turmoil, racial discrimination and World War. In the end he cultivated great friendships with his group of artists, playing an important role as Patron in their development as well as offering refuge to some fearing prosecution for their anti-fascist views and/or Jewish heritage. He bought a Gallery in Milan, offering contracts to the artists thereby giving them a permanent income so they could concentrate on painting.
Renato Guttuso, one of the artists in his group and with whom he had a great friendship, rang him on hearing that Mussolini and the fascist regime had fallen. and went immediately to Genoa to celebrate with him. Guttuso insisted on painting his portrait as record of that important day 25/7/1943, including another of his own paintings in the background.
His collection is a wonderful mix of futurists work – Fortunato Depero, Gino Severini, portraits – Renato Guttuso, Virgilio Guidi, Ottone Rosai: still life – Mario Mafei, Antonio Donghi and landscapes particularly connected to his love of the sea – Filippo de Pisis, Carlo Carra` to name just a few.
The collection is displayed in various sections under themes – Cavalry, Gestures, Suspended Poses; The artist and his world; Still Life; Nudes, the Female; Landscape; Sculpted Paintings, painted Sculptures; Farces; and Faces, Portraits. Here you see only a small selection of the 250 works of Art that make up the collection.
In the end the Milan Gallery closed in debt and della Ragione looked for a solution for his collection, drawn to Florence and his Florentine friends as the ideal artistic city. In 1970 he donated his collection to the Council of Florence but unfortunately it never became visible to the public until its inclusion in the Museo Novecento in 2014 when the Museum first opened. . Alberto della Ragione died in 1973, so fortunately never knew of the years delay before his collection could be fully appreciated. The Museum certainly deserves to be included in the list of Florence Art Museums to visit when life returns to ‘normal.’