This collection – a small treasure of around forty works – was donated to the Municipality of Milan in 1975, by the wife of the collector, who had recently passed away. Giuseppe Vismara (1903–1975) was one of the numerous businessmen in Milan who resumed and continued, after World War II, the tradition of collecting modern art which had characterized the middle classes of Milan between the wars and which today enriches, thanks to generous donations and bequeaths, some key civic museums.
His passion for art quickly grew, and he was able to visit, during his work trips, many European museums. In 1939, he had a decisive encounter with the art dealer Gino Ghiringhelli, who was in charge of the prestigious Galleria del Milione along with his brother, Peppino. This gallery, located in Brera, in the heart of Milan, was, starting in the 1930s, the focus of avant-garde research and had the most fertile exchange with European art. Besides being his advisor and dealer, Ghiringhelli was helpful in exposing Vismara to new friends among the art crowd. In fact, Vismara often bought their works directly in their studios.
This collection reflects attentive and never banal choices. It is especially unique for some international artists – Modigliani, Dufy, Matisse, and Picasso, among others. As regards Italy, Vismara’s choices were influenced by the criteria of modernity and were informed by international art. Special attention (quite uncommon for a Milanese collector) was given to artists from the so-called Ca’ Pesaro group, with quite rare presences for collections of the time, like Gino Rossi and Pio Semeghini. Other choices by Vismara are also in line with this and were often in contrast with much Italian art at the time, which was more related to tradition: this is how we may interpret the works of Filippo De Pisis, Giorgio Morandi, and the late paintings of Mario Sironi. The selection of Italian artists finally culminates with another “irregular” artist – Arturo Tosi, Giuseppe Vismara’s close friend.
Since 2014, the Vismara Collection has been on display on the second floor of Villa Reale, alongside the Grassi Collection, the installation of which was designed in the 1950s by the architect Ignazio Gardella and is today totally restored. Both collections, similar in their preference for international artists and avant-garde choices, can be admired in a space that heightens their modernity and elegance.
The visit to the Vismara collection, which occupies the last three rooms of the floor, develops in perfect continuity with the works of the Grassi collection, exhibited in the previous rooms. Some artists are present in both collections: this is the case of Morandi’s masterpieces, two still lifes and a view from the typical suspended atmosphere of Tosi, who on the back of Rosa teahe sketched a portrait of Giuseppe Vismara (while the bronze portrait of Tosi was commissioned to Marino Marini by Vismara himself). Other artists are united, albeit with different formal results, from participation in the contemporary cultural and artistic debate as well as from repeated stays in the lively international context of Paris (Campigli, De Pisis, Rossi, Semeghini). Three late works by Mario Sironi conclude the room, marked by the dark and dramatic tones that are typical of the artist’s post-war paintings.
Three works by Picasso enrich the hall, where it is possible, among other things, to admire a small and precious oil on canvas by Renoir, already belonged to the merchant Ambroise Vollard, a rare landscape of Matisse built on strong colors of Fauve and L ancestry Dufy ‘s atelier , which shows the artist’s unconditional admiration for Matisse in the choice of subject and style. The Taureau vase is part of Picasso’s innovative ceramic production, to which the Spanish artist dedicated himself in the immediate post-war period at the Madoura laboratory in Vallauris, on the French Riviera. La Mediterranée and Combat de centaures charcoal VI they are both works of the Fifties, testimony of Picasso’s continuous research on the themes of metal sculpture (to which the painted pedestal seems to allude) and bullfight (similar to the mythological theme of the Centauromachy).
Except for the lithograph by Roualt and the etching of Picasso ( Trois femmes ), the room exhibits works by Italian artists dealing with different graphic techniques: pencil, pen, watercolor, pastel. Note the drawing by Modigliani, which portrays the English poet and writer Beatrice Hastings, her partner and protagonist of various portraits. Arturo Tosi is present with works that explore themes and subjects already encountered in the previous rooms. On the other hand, three etchings bear witness to the absolute mastery of the technical medium by Morandi, whose numerous engravings are no less important than the paintings: the artist’s graphic production proceeds parallel to the pictorial one, with strong points of contact and of comparison. In the San Sebastiano in bronze, finally, Arturo Martini tests his mastery by reworking the classic iconography of the holy martyr in a small-format work.
Galleria d’Arte Moderna – Milano
From 1903 the Galleria d’Arte Moderna preserves the modern art collections of the City of Milan, an artistic heritage of about 3,500 works. The collections are displayed from 1921 within the Villa Reale, one of the masterpieces of milan’s neoclassical era. Designed by the architect Leopoldo Pollock, it was built between 1790 and 1796 as the house of the earl Lodovico Barbiano di Belgioioso. Villa Reale later became the residence of the Viceroy Eugenio di Beauharnais, stepson of Napoleon.
Among the undisputed protagonists of the Milanese and Italian art history present in the collection there are Antonio Canova, Andrea Appiani, Francesco Hayez, Tranquillo Cremona, Giovanni Segantini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Giovanni Boldini, Medardo Rosso, Gaetano Previati.
Thanks to private collections and to the donations of important families, such as Grassi and Vismara, the artistic heritage of the Gallery has been enriched with masterpieces of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The exhibition activity of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna dialogues with applied art, the contemporary languages and the thematic analysis of artists present in the permanent collection.
What makes Milan’s Modern Art Gallery of international stature is the value and quality of the works on display and housed here: Francesco Hayez, Pompeo Marchesi, Andrea Appiani, Tranquillo Cremona, Giovanni Segantini, Federico Faruffini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Antonio Canova, Daniele Ranzoni, Medardo Rosso, Gaetano Previati are some of the important artists present, as they are undisputed protagonists of Art History for both Milan and Italy. Their works represent art as it unfolded from the 18th to 19th centuries, in particular the current that originated in the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera and slowly took hold even beyond national borders. Thanks to 20th-century art collectors and donations by some prominent families (Treves, Ponti, Grassi, Vismara, for example), over the years these masterpieces have enriched the Gallery’s art heritage and confirmed its fundamental mission of perpetuating the diffusion of culture. Visitors can admire in the Villa’s halls works by Giovanni Fattori, Silvestro Lega, Giovanni Boldini, Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani, and other key players on Italy’s 20th-century art scene.