Collection's History

The Museum Speaks and Speaks about Itself


Right from its inception, the museum favoured, on the one hand, the regional historical approach with a special focus on nineteenth and twentieth-century art from the areas of Lombardy and Ticino in Switzerland and, on the other hand, it has also been open to contemporary art from the national and international scenes, with a special focus on graphic art. The town’s heritage, enriched over the years through important monographic holdings, now has more than three thousand and fife hundred pieces, including paintings, works on paper and sculptures. It is a significant point of reference for modern and contemporary figurative art from the region and beyond.


In its thirty years of activity, this institution has succeeded in creating a dialogue with the local and international communities, putting Ticino at the centre of a dual exploration: one diachronically devoted to history of the Canton, the other extending beyond its borders to neighbouring Italy and beyond the Alps. Between these poles, the complex cultural identity of this land is wedged between the Alps and the Po valley and for this reason, in the ducal era, it had already been named “Key and doorway to Italy”.


Like most city museums, Villa dei Cedri Museum owes its existence to the passion for private collecting which then translates into generous patronage. In the 1970s, with the conviction that art, rather than being a private matter, should represent the thinking and civil identity of a country, Adolfo Rossi, a wealthy banker residing in Varese but originally from Bellinzona, and Emilio Sacchi, a doctor from Bellinzona, donated their respective art collections to the city. These collections that consisted mainly of paintings dating from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, were donated thanks to the efforts of the Mayor at the time, Athos Gallino, a doctor, the first to promote the establishment of  the Civic Gallery, now Villa dei Cedri Museum, and president of the Amici di Villa dei Cedri Association (from 2007 a Foundation).


Provisionally set up on the third floor of the Town Hall, the Rossi and Sacchi collections then came together at Villa dei Cedri. In 1985, the museum was opened with the presentation of the Adolfo Rossi collection, consisting of seventy works of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Italian school, including paintings by Luigi Rossi, Guido Tallone, Antonio Ciseri, Luigi Nono, Eleuterio Pagliano and a drawing on paper by Giovanni Segantini.


The general layout of Rossi picture gallery determined the orientation and purchases of the new museum, then called Civica Galleria d’Arte, Civic Art Gallery. Thanks to the generosity of other Bellinzona collectors, such as the Morettis and Picos, its holding of original works was soon enriched and completed primarily with late nineteenth-century works of great interest. Among these artworks, it appears the Studio di testa [Study of a Head, 1899] by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (donated by Anita and Luciano Pico in 1989), dating back to the period which the artist from Lombardy spent at Cesare Tallone’s school in Bergamo, where an important group of artists from Ticino and Lombardy was formed. The addition of this portrait to the collection favoured in turn the donation, in 2001, by the Amici di Villa dei Cedri of the Testa di vecchio con barba e berretto [Head of Old Man with Beard and Bereti] (1885) by Cesare Tallone which unequivocally reveals the influence exerted by the teacher on his student.

Villa dei Cedri owns another portrait by Cesare Tallone, Giovane Donna [Young Woman] (1902) which was also donated by the Pico couple in 1987. It is characterized by its almost material earth-coloured typical backgrounds as well as by the plastic force of the model. The museum devoted a solo exhibition to this painter in 2008, preceded by one in 1989 for his son Guido, in this collection with holdings that began with a landscape in oil belonging to the Rossi Legacy and two other landscapes donated by the Pico couple.

The Berta Holding developed at Villa dei Cedri following the retrospective exhibition of 2000, and was a consequence of the donation by Elda Berta of the beautiful triptych Estate di San Martino [Indian Summer] (1895-1905). The rich and varied material includes not only drawings, sketches, and notebooks, but also autographed letters, personal belongings and photographs, a set of writings about the artist donated by the Heirs. Along with another notebook acquired by the Amici in 2004, it was used to restore all the complexity of the figure of this versatile artist, simultaneously a painter, archaeologist, curator and art historian.


Along with the artists already mentioned, Adolfo Feragutti Visconti is another leading figure in the museum’s collection and a prime example of the spirit of the Bellinzona institution. From the beginning, the aim was to study and re-evaluate the history of local art in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, wrongly considered to be of minor importance. Starting with the works of Feragutti Visconti in the first holdings of the collection, including a small panel entitled Maternità [Motherhood] (1885-1890) from the Pico donation, the museum gradually promoted research and exhibitions which made it possible to annex some often significant paintings, such as Natura morta: uva nera e uva bianca [Still Life: Red and White Grapes] (1885-1890), acquired by the Amici di Villa dei Cedri in 1997, or the Signora delle ortensie [Lady of Hydrangeas] (1920-1921), a splendid fashionable portrait with fluid and evanescent brushwork, donated in 2000 by the Heirs of Clemente Molo, other generous benefactors of Villa dei Cedri.


Another very popular genre in the nineteenth century and well-represented in the collection is the landscape, of which we cite at least La vigna o Paesaggio nei dintorni di Milano [The Vineyard or Landscape Surrounding Milan] (1884) by Giovanni Segantini, which arrived through the donation from the Picos in 1987. It is one of the most compelling views painted during his period in Brianza, lean and essential, but full of atmospheric effects. The canvas, as we see by the autograph on the back of the frame, belonged to the painter and art dealer Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, a friend of Segantini. Of this artist, the museum owns two beautiful landscapes from the cycle Poema panteista - Sinfonia invernale [Pantheist Poem - Winter Symphony] conceived and painted by Grubicy in Miazzina, a village on Lake Maggiore where he lived for a long period from 1886. The first, named Inverno a Miazzina [Winter in Miazzina] (1898), was annexed to the collection in 1991 through a donation from the Amici di Villa dei Cedri.

The growth of a collection depends on the focused and consistent exhibition programme pursued by a museum. This was also the case for the exhibitionViaggio verso le Alpi [Travel to the Alps] in 1997, which favoured the deposit, in 1998, of a large group of Swiss landscapes from the collection of the Swiss Confederation and, in 2002, the donation of other eight landscapes dating from the turn of the twentieth century from Domenico Noli Foundation in Bellinzona. The works from this Foundation, which also include a view of Urirostock, sul Lago dei Quattro Cantoni [Uristock, on Lake Lucerne, 1850-1860] by Johann Gottfried Steffan, from Zurich, a Paesaggio alpino con viandanti [Alpine Landscape with Travelers, 1850-1870] by Friedrich Zimmermann, from Argovia, and a Paesaggio con tre pastorelli nei pressi di Crémieu - Delfinato [Landscape with Three Shepherd Children near Crémieu – Dauphiné, 1850-1870]) by the Geneva artist Elisée Jules Gustave Castan, have enriched the important chapter on Swiss painting in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The three landscapes document the delicate transition from Romanticism, to which the first two refer once again, to the Naturalism of an impressionist mould that characterizes the work of Castan, close to the style of Antonio Fontanesi in terms of colour and light.


Among those from Ticino who embraced the artistic suggestions of Italian twentieth-century art with sensitivity and diverse results, we can include Mario Moglia, Bruno Morenzoni, Felice Filippini, Alberto Salvioni, Mario Ribola, Jean Corty, and Filippo Boldini. As for this last painter, in 2000 Villa dei Cedri had an extensive deposit of his works from the town of Lugano Paradiso, birthplace of the painter, made up of thirty-seven paintings and more than forty drawings ranging from the 1930s to the mid-1980s.

The twentieth century, between Arturo Martini, Carlo Carra, Mario Sironi and Arturo Tosi, is the rich reservoir from which also comes Giovanni Molteni, from Brianza originally, but Ticino by adoption. Of this artist, the museum has a rich store after the exhibition of 1987, partly made up of works on deposit from a private collection. In addition to the collection of paintings, the museum also houses the artist’s personal collection of books and extensive archive, including the inventory of the works prepared by Marco Bernasconi. A key figure in the history of twentieth-century art in Ticino is Giuseppe Foglia, sculptor, painter and critic, of whose works the museum has a large collection which began with the painting Studio [Study] (1939-1940), donated by the Lucchini Foundation in 1989. The retrospective exhibition, held at the Villa dei Cedri in 1998, aroused interest in the artist, and the subsequent enrichment of the collection with paintings, cards and sculptures, received in the form of a deposit by the Foglia Heirs.


Among other acquisitions and donations, it is worth mentioning at least those from Mario Della Valle Foundation, the Amici and Carlo Bonetti, lawyer and collector from Bellinzona, who was particularly fond of the museum and his city. Thanks to his generosity, the museum has also been able to expand other collections such as that of Edmondo Dobrzanski. Starting with the monographic exhibition of 1989 and created in close collaboration with the artist, this collection was gradually enriched until the last donations from Bonetti in 2010, with thirteen portraits in ink on paper, mostly dating from the artist’s Zurich sojourn (1942-1950).

To Carlo Bonetti we also owe the development of the important Giovanni Genucchi holdings, which includes not only sculptures and sketches, but also a comprehensive documentary and photographic archives. The works in the collection are mainly the result of the legacy of the Genucchi Heirs and the support of Amici di Villa dei Cedri, as well as the Lucchini Foundation. Again, it was the presentation of the artist in a solo exhibition in 1989 that kicked off the acquisition of the works and the annexation of the sculptor’s artistic research from the early 1950s to the 1970s, with the aim of recovering the roots of a great and sacred feeling for the human condition inherent in what Virgilio Gilardoni called “the art of the rustic cisalpine peoples” and that, in Genucchi, translates into the exaltation of the female figure.


The museum has added research on Swiss art to that of twentieth century Ticino and Italian art, with a special focus on works on paper, which are to some extent the soul of the civic institution. Out of the collaboration with the artist’s heirs for the 1994 exhibition of Fritz Pauli came a collection of Swiss graphic works, with the donation of five folios of engravings and grease pencil works, followed, in 1997, by other donations of Swiss German Expressionists such as Johannes Robert Schürch, Albert Müller or Gregor Rabinovitch, who lived and worked for a long time in Ticino. Their presence is a reminder that the Canton, from the first decades of the twentieth century onward, was a hospitable destination for numerous Swiss artists and those of many other nationalities. They gave a special character to this province, also influenced by a strong component from the north as well as by its culture of origin.


This is also what we find in comparing the papers from twentieth century Ticino, which is another key point of the collection. Post-war Ticino certainly bore witness to an interesting phenomenon of flourishing graphic arts and particularly woodcuts, one of the major mediums of expression for artists like Aldo Patocchi, Giovanni Bianconi and Ubaldo Monico. Monico is by far the best represented xylographer at the museum, with a collection of nearly 150 prints, annexed in 1996 thanks to the donation by the artist’s heirs and subsequently added to by the same family and Carlo Bonetti. Alongside the prints, the collection also includes some works on paper and paintings, many matrices in wood, engraved plates, documents and other various materials all from the artist’s studio and birthplace.


Speaking of woodcuts, we absolutely must mention the famous series Intimità [Intimacy] by Félix Vallotton, a real gem for the graphics section of the museum. Published by the “Revue blanche” in 1898 and consisting of eleven panels, only thirty prints were made and they are now highly sought after. One of the first acquisitions made by the Amici in 1992, Intimità [Intimacy] by Vallotton, provided the basis for the museum’s graphics section, and this opened the way for contemporary art from both Ticino and Italy.


In the collection of graphic works, some monographic collections stand out, by local artists such as Mario Marioni, Giuseppe Bolzani, Massimo Cavalli, Paolo Mazzuchelli (PAM) and other Italian artists, particularly from the Lombardy area, such as Italo Valenti. The museum has a large collection of works by Valenti from his lesser-known informal period. There are works by Enrico Della Torre, who in 2001 together with his wife Christa donated 110 works to Villa dei Cedri, including paintings, drawings and engravings ranging from 1953 to 2000. There are also works by Giulia Napoleone. These collections confirm the museum’s desire to operate in the wake of an open regional discourse, one that lets the “local” context interact with the international one, especially, though not exclusively, in the field of informal art. In more general terms, one could say that Villa dei Cedri has focused precisely on periods of transition: the one that goes from Naturalism to Symbolism for the art of the past, and the one that moves toward Informal Expressionism to the present.


It is therefore no coincidence that the collection of works by Massimo Cavalli, a painter and engraver with a definite leaning toward the informal, is one of the museum’s strengths. There are approximately two hundred and fifty of his works, including paintings on canvas and wood, tempera, watercolours, mixed media on paper, printed sheets (over two hundred) and ten or so original editions. The generous gesture by the artist, who in 2011 donated his body of works, together with the Legacy of Adriano and Luciano Camani from 2011, will corroborate his presence in the collection, recorded from 1990, and which now covers the whole range of his work in the different graphic design and painting techniques, from the mid-Fifties to the present. The contemporary art section is also growing, as well as giving impetus to up-to-date research into the current situation and the territory, revealing a fundamental aspect of the museum’s function and activity, which is to offer opportunities for cultural meeting and discussion, encourage the debate and promote knowledge. The generosity of the artists who have donated or deposited their works, as well as exhibitions, studies and public events with artists who have monographic collections with Villa dei Cedri, are demonstrating this very thing.


From Lucia Pedrini-Stanga, “The Museum Speaks and Speaks about Itself”, in Carole Haensler Huguet e Carlotta Rossi (ed.), Tra sogno e realtà. Ottocento e Novecento dalla collezione del Museo Civico della Città di Belinzona, exhibition catalogue (Milan, Museo della Permanente, 4 September – 11 October 2015), Skira, Geneva-Milan, 2015, p. 22-30.

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