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The Gualino Collection

The art collection of Riccardo Gualino, a sophisticated entrepreneur from the Piedmont region, was without doubt one of the most important Italian collections of the early 1900s. Gualino was bankrupted during the Great Depression and had to make over his collection to the Bank of Italy, with which he had contracted a substantial loan. Although the Bank was forced to sell a number of works, it was fortunately able to keep a large selection, which formed the basis for the prestigious collection now housed in Palazzo Koch, the Bank’s impressive head office.
The Gualino Collection, originally conceived along the lines of the great American collections and thus embracing the full panorama of history and geography, from antiquity to the Baroque, underwent a substantial transformation after Gualino met the art historian Lionello Venturi in 1918. “He completely changed my view of art,” wrote Gualino, “making it part of my life.” Soon, seven paintings by Modigliani were added to the collection, together with major works by Casorati and the Gruppo dei sei, six painters considered at the time to represent Turin’s new avant-garde, as well as Fattori’s famous Ritratto della cugina Argia, works by Cézanne and, lastly, paintings by the Impressionists, including the famous study for the Negro servant in Manet’s Olympia. Although only a sketch, the latter’s inclusion illustrates Gualino’s enlightened attitude and his response to the scandal that the naked woman had provoked in Paris in the 1880s, later becoming an emblem of the Turin avant-garde movement and a symbol of revolt against bourgeois prudery.
The works that escaped sale, including a landscape by Monet, paintings by Spadini, Soffici and Carena and some works by the Gruppo dei sei, remain evidence of Venturi’s influence and Gualino’s earnest and generous support of his choices.  The partnership between the two men developed beyond a simple advisory relationship, soon becoming a bond that led them to manage together some undertakings of major importance for the city, including projects for the theatre. They were further united by very similar political sympathies. Both were liberals and belonged to the same group of anti-Fascist intellectuals surrounding Piero Gobetti, which included the architect Alberto Sartoris, the critics Edoardo Persico and Giacomo Debenedetti, and the writer Mario Soldati, all of whom were engaged in contrasting the regime’s closed attitude by advocating the dissemination of culture and an international approach to contemporary art. 


Augusta Monferini
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