The History of Pinacoteca Agnelli’s Incredible Collection

Marcella Pralormo, Director of Pinacoteca Agnelli, on what shaped the collection

By Google Arts & Culture

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The Pinacoteca Agnelli permanently houses 25 masterpieces from Giovanni and Marella Agnelli’s private collection. Opened in 2002, the gallery marked the final step in the 20-year-long restructuring process of the whole Lingotto site. After this huge conversion process, the 90-year-old building still maintains the architectural power and freshness of the car factory, which was designed by Giacomo Mattè Trucco, and wends its way effortlessly to the Lingotto designed by Renzo Piano. Here, Pinacoteca Agnelli’s director Marcella Pralomo talks about the history of the gallery’s collection and her favourite pieces.

What was the first work (or works) acquired by Giovanni and Marella Agnelli?

The first works to arrive at the Pinacoteca while the museum was being set up were the two pieces by Bernardo Bellotto and the Cubist piece by Pablo Picasso. They came from New York. Bellotto's paintings show two views of Dresden during the time of Augustus III of Saxony. These had been on display in the Fiat USA offices, while the Picasso had been in the Park Avenue apartment. Transporting the latter was quite complicated given its large size. They couldn't use the elevator of the highrise, so the painting had to be lowered through a window. A section of Park Avenue had to be closed off so the work could be loaded into a truck.

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Did the founders have an art advisor? How did they select their works?

L'Avvocato (or "the Lawyer", as Giovanni was affectionately known) and Donna Marella selected the works personally. They had an eye for quality, frequently attending museums and exhibitions, visiting galleries, and meeting with art historians and antique dealers. Sellers from all over the world contacted them with offers, but it was always a personal choice for them. For example, four beautiful Canalettos were among the last works they acquired with a view to exhibiting them at the Pinacoteca. L'Avvocato had to let go of an Amedeo Modigliani to get them.

What does the collection of Giovanni and Marella Agnelli tell us?

Giovanni and Marella Agnelli's collection expresses their passion for art. Art has been a feature of their entire lives. It has always been on display in their homes, from Rome to Turin to New York. For Giovanni and Marella Agnelli, art brings joy, and we used this belief as our starting point when developing the Pinacoteca Agnelli's educational initiatives and exhibitions. Long before neuroscience proved that art has genuine benefits for our brain, L'Avvocato sensed it could bring wellbeing, pleasure, and comfort. For this reason, the collection does not follow a precise chronological or thematic order. Instead, it reflects the personal taste of the collectors in their perennial search for joy and aesthetic pleasure in art.

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Where was the collection stored before the 'Scrigno'?

The works now on display in the permanent collection come from the homes of Giovanni Agnelli and Donna Marella. In photographs, you can see the works hanging up in their apartments in Rome and on Corso Matteotti in Turin, for example. The Bellottos and the Cubist Picasso, meanwhile, were in New York, one in their apartment and the others in the Fiat USA offices.

The work by Tiepolo is an unusual case. Has it ever been exhibited alongside its missing piece?

The Tiepolo has a curious history. The work comes from Cà Corner della Regina in Venice, which is now home to the Prada Foundation. In the 19th century, it was cut into two pieces. One piece ended up at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, UK, while the other ended up in the Agnelli collection. The Edinburgh section depicts the finding of Moses, whereas the part exhibited by us shows a halberdier watching over the women and child. One can see mountains in the background that look very similar to the Dolomites. Tiepolo had never been to Egypt and invented the landscape based on what he knew. The two sections were reunited for an exhibition in Udine a few years ago. It was a great chance to see them up close and also to admire the preparatory drawings.

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The collection seems to predominantly feature works by the vedutisti masters. Did the founders have a preference for these artists?

The vedutisti are undoubtedly among L'Avvocato and Donna Marella's preferred artists. They used to say that one never tires of looking at these paintings, because they tell stories of everyday life, rich in features and details. They are a pleasure to behold. It is interesting to compare the Canaletto paintings of the 1720s, with their dramatic, stormy skies and contrasting colors, to the two much more peaceful works painted 20 years later, with their pastel tones.

If you had to choose the next piece to add to the collection, what would it be?

As per its by-laws, the museum does not buy works of art; instead, it exhibits the collection donated by the founders to the Foundation based in the Lingotto. I would, however, like to exhibit the other part of the Tiepolo, even if only for a few months.

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Are there any works that you are particularly fond of?

I have worked at the Pinacoteca Agnelli since March 2002, before the museum opened to the public. I witnessed the birth of the museum and set up the collection alongside Renzo Piano and all the other professionals involved, so that question is like asking a mother who her favorite child is – it's impossible to choose! All the works are first-rate. They come together to form a sort of symphony, a perfect equilibrium, a dialogue of colors and shapes. For example, I like walking between the room dedicated to Bellotto and the one straight after it, which has the works from Henri Matisse. First, you encounter the precision of the Dresden cityscapes depicting market scenes, churches, and the king and queen in a carriage. Then all of a sudden you find yourself surrounded by Matisse's dazzling colors. I really like this leap between two different ways of interpreting painting, each one very modern for its time.

Besides the permanent collection, the Pinacoteca Agnelli has a busy exhibition schedule. What does this involve?

We host exhibitions on the topic of collecting, with no limitations as far as time periods or themes are concerned. We have organized exhibitions with collections of archeology, African art, architecture, design, and contemporary art. We try to delve into the personal tastes of each collector to find out what drives someone to purchase a work or to focus on a specific artist or an unusual subject such as 'quilling' (rolled strips of paper painted gold and used to decorate relics). Each collector creates his or her own ideal world through the works they acquire, which become a tangible representation of the collector's personality, values, and imagination.

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Credits: Story

Words by Rebecca Fulleylove

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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