Containing works by artists including Filippo de Pisis, Fortunato Depero and Giorgio de Chirico, the collection of Alberto Della Ragione provides an extraordinarily comprehensive overview of Italian Modernism.

Della Ragione was born in Piano di Sorrento near Naples in 1892, but lived for most of his life in Genoa where he died in 1973. He trained and practised as a naval engineer but art was his great passion. In the 1920s he began collecting nineteenth-century paintings and he came into contact with Modernist styles by frequenting salerooms. It is said that his first purchase of a twentieth-century work was made as a challenge to himself to understand an artistic vocabulary which was, at the time, alien to him. Determined to discover what others saw in such works, he hung his acquisition by his bed so that he could not ignore it.

Intense contemplation had a positive effect and his collection of contemporary works grew throughout the 1930s. Additions included works by Massimo Campigli, Arturo Martini and Giorgio Morandi, and a Self Portrait by Modigliani (no longer in the collection), on which Della Ragione spent the money originally set aside for a new apartment.

Towards the end of the 1930s Della Ragione turned his attention to the work of the younger generation of artists. He made contracts with artists such as Renato Guttuso, Renato Birolli and Giuseppe Santomaso which guaranteed them a monthly stipend in exchange for first refusal on their works; on occasions he even provided them with somewhere to stay.

In 1942 Della Ragione took over the Galleria della Spiga in Milan, but the war forced its closure two years later. Thereafter he bought only sporadically, and in 1970 he donated his collection to the city of Florence as a gesture of solidarity and affection following the devastating floods four years earlier. Last exhibited in 2006 in the city's Forte di Belvedere, the exhibition at the Estorick Collection was a rare opportunity to explore Della Ragione's outstanding collection.

Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau on the set of La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 © Sergio Strizzi Photography

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Pasquarosa, Vase of Flowers, c. 1916

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