Italian Prints 1875-1975

1 February – 3 June 2007

Room 90

Admission free

After many years of political struggles and fighting Italy finally achieved independence in 1861. The following 100 years saw a remarkable revival of high quality printmaking in Italy. The period shows Italian artists’ highly individual engagement with the major movements of naturalism, realism and symbolism, and the close relationship with the contemporary art of other European countries. The foundation of the Venice Biennale at the end of the 19th century and a series of major international exhibitions led to a deeper interaction between Italian art and that produced elsewhere. Many Italian artists spent extended periods abroad, particularly in Paris, and significant printmakers from other countries visited and influenced the Italians. Through this two-way relationship, Italy made a major contribution to European art as a whole through movements such as Futurism, Metaphysical Painting and Arte Povera.

The exhibition will include more than 110 works by 45 different artists and is the first exhibition of its kind to be attempted anywhere in Europe. The works in the exhibition come very largely from the collection recently formed at the British Museum, through the generosity of a single anonymous donor. This collection is supplemented by loans from the Estorick Collection, Tate Modern and the V&A.

The first great printmaker of the era, Giovanni Fattori from Livorno, responded to the wars that freed Italy from Austrian dominance with etchings not of battles, but of soldiers on the watch and of the long periods of inactivity and tedium they experienced. Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini all responded to the new naturalism that emanated from Paris. Bleak suburban landscapes and figures worn by work were their subject matter before the advent of Futurism. After the First World War Italian artists reacted to the horrors and devastation by turning to images of peace and calm. The finest printmaker of the century, Giorgio Morandi, produced a series of etchings of still lives that matched the work of Chardin in their precision and balance.

Philosophical ideas lay behind many of the best works produced by Italians after 1945. Enrico Baj, fascinated by the ideas of the 1st century Roman writer Lucretius about the development of the world from primeval chaos and of cyclical rebirth, illustrated his poem De Rerum Naturae with etchings that reflected the anxieties of the Cold War and the hopes for averting the horrors of further world conflict. Other artists such as Alberto Burri, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Berto Lardera combined American and French abstraction in highly individual ways.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by Martin Hopkinson and published by British Museum Press. This is the first publication in any language devoted to the subject.

For further information please contact Hannah Boulton on 020 7323 8522 or hboulton@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk