Estimated reading time:7 minutes, 35 seconds
Everyone on¬†Islington Faces Blog¬†has a story. ¬†Do you know this Islington art gallery? The world-famous collection of Italian Futurist art at the Estorick Collection, off Highbury Corner, attracts 1,000s of visitors, but for many it‚Äôs been thought of¬†one of London‚Äôs best-kept secrets. Here Roberta Cremoncini talks about art, the new ‘The Years of¬†La Dolce Vita’ exhibition and what she likes about Islington. Interview¬†by¬†Nicola Baird
‚ÄúI‚Äôve been here forever,‚ÄĚ says the elegant woman in charge of the Estorick‚Äôs remarkable Futurist collection of art with a friendly laugh. Roberta Cremoncini studied art history in Florence but has been working at the Estorick Collection since 1997. She was here even before it opened to the public, first as assistant curator, then curator. Since 2001 she‚Äôs been the Director ‚Äď based in an office boasting a colourful Marc Chagall print. The desk is crowded with work but on the hard drive are stuck sweet love notes, in Italian and English, from her seven-year-old bilingual daughter.
‚ÄúI love Islington,‚ÄĚ says Roberta, 50, who now lives so close to her job she doesn‚Äôt have to cross the road to get to work. ‚ÄúIt seems everyone knows me: I‚Äôm the Italian who works at the Estorick. Sometimes that‚Äôs daunting, other times it‚Äôs great. When I had my first baby, Thomas, everyone stopped me in the Square. I had millions of cards‚Ä¶ and when he started going to The Children‚Äôs House nursery I got to know so many local people.‚ÄĚ
Islington citizenship ceremony
Back in 2004 ‚Äď before the infamous British Citizenship test was introduced ‚Äď Roberta took on dual nationality. ‚ÄúI had my citizenship ceremony in Islington. It was a rainy day and I went on my own. I hadn‚Äôt realised it was so serious. It was like a wedding: everyone was dressed up, there were photos and food. I was given a glass paperweight from the Borough of Islington (which she keeps on her desk). Afterwards there was a Turkish mezze ‚Äď that seemed very Islington! My colleague gave me a card with a picture of an English breakfast on it, which seemed very appropriate.‚ÄĚ
Her only bugbear about the borough is perhaps what Islington is most famous for, its Italian delis. ‚ÄúI find the Italian connection a bit of a cartoon of Italy. When I turn up at 9am with my children for the Italian School at King‚Äôs Cross and no one‚Äôs arrived that feels right, it feels Italian, but when deli staff insist on talking in Italian and saying ‚ÄėBuon Giorno‚Äô¬†to everyone it‚Äôs a bit cheesy‚Ä¶ I pretend to be very British, despite my accent, when I go in.‚ÄĚ
Places to love in Islington
Roberta Cremoncini who is Director of the Estorick Collection is from Italy but has lived in Islington for years. She loves it here but says: ‚ÄúThere have been lots of changes, perhaps some of the special things have been diluted.‚ÄĚ
Upper Street is more mainstream but it has certain nice shops like 20/21 and Aria. I still go to Angel shopping centre and I am looking forward to Muji opening, it‚Äôs my kind of shop.
My children love fish and chips so I go to Seafish on Upper Street for birthdays or during the week. It‚Äôs got nice tables and you don‚Äôt come out smelling of fish.
For lunch I like the Workers‚Äô Caf√© also on Upper Street. It‚Äôs been there forever ‚Äď I first went there in 1997.
I like Highbury Fields for a picnic.
I sometimes go to the little pub, the Compton Arms but a half is probably enough for me.
I loved the Little Angel puppet theatre when the children were younger.
Last Christmas the Estorick celebrated with a dinner at Gem on Upper Street. I also go there regularly.
How well do you know the Estorick?
For many years the elegant Georgian home of the Estorick Collection was an artificial flower factory. The factory closed back in 1968 but for the first decade of Italian-born Roberta Cremoncini‚Äôs working life with the Estorick ‚Äď she joined in 1997 ‚Äď she remembers meeting ‚Äúpeople who lived in Canonbury Square and had worked at the factory.‚ÄĚ
The permanent collection was formed by Eric Estorick (1913-1993) and his wife Salome (1920-1983) during the 1950s. It‚Äôs a world-boasting collection of Italian Futurist art with work including Balla, Boccioni and Severini. There are also pieces by de Chirico, Modigliani and Morandi.
‚ÄúWe are here by chance,‚ÄĚ admits Roberta. ‚ÄúWhen the Foundation was set up, the son of Eric (Michael Estorick, now the chairman) used to live in Highbury and often passed this building, which was for sale.‚ÄĚ By 1994 the Estorick Collection had its Islington home. By 1998 it was open with enough space for a pretty garden and caf√©. There‚Äôs a fee to see the art, but for an annual membership of ¬£20 a year the shows are free and there‚Äôs a caf√© discount.
‚ÄúWe could double our visitor numbers and still feel special ‚Äď we are a bit bored of being London‚Äôs best-kept secret,‚ÄĚ says Roberta with a laugh. In fact the Estorick‚Äôs permanent collection of Italian Futuristic art and exhibitions attracts 20-25,000 visitors a year. Until 29 June you can also see¬†The Years of ‚ÄėLa Dolce Vita‚Äô¬†‚Äďtwo rooms of black and white paparazzi shots of the stars.
‚ÄúThis will appeal to the public there are fun shots, famous people in Rome with recognisable faces. It‚Äôs the ‚Äė50s and ‚Äė60s. You have the allure of Rome and the beautiful photography,‚ÄĚ explains Roberta who is pleased with the media coverage of the exhibition in its first week. She obviously loves this era and is enjoying offering a more populist show.
‚ÄúThey are so beautiful, look at their elegance,‚ÄĚ says Roberta as she takes me around the room of Marcello Geppetti‚Äôs images. Brigitte Bardot with her beehive and plaits looks adorable. Jayne Mansfield is posing with a dish (Mike Hargarty) and spaghetti. Audrey Hepburn is a fashion stylist‚Äôs dream in scarf, swing coat, gloves and an outsize handbag, which is¬†roomy enough for the dog trotting beside her.¬† Roberta then leads me into the next gallery to see some rather different shots ‚Äď stars attacking the photographers. The image of Federico Fellini‚Äôs star Anita Ekberg, in stockinged feet, putting an arrow on to her bow to menace photographers is as hard to forget as her antics in Rome‚Äôs famous Trevi Fountain were in the 1960s film¬†La Dolce Vita.
‚ÄúWhen we first arrived it wasn‚Äôt easy ‚Äď we were not liked by the locals at first. But that‚Äôs changed dramatically,‚ÄĚ explains Roberta. ‚ÄúPeople like the collections, the paintings, the building, the coffee, the garden and the fact I‚Äôve been here forever‚Ä¶ ‚Äú
Of course there is the ¬£20 offer for annual membership ‚Äď plus a rather special bonus, the chance to see the Estorick‚Äôs ghost. ‚ÄúThe building hasn‚Äôt been lived in since 1916,‚ÄĚ explains Roberta. ‚ÄúOur ghost is a horseman ‚Äď at least our caretaker used to say that. He‚Äôs been seen in Gallery 2. I‚Äôm convinced,‚ÄĚ she adds. If the potent mix of garden caf√©, celebrity photos and Italian art isn‚Äôt enough, then surely the chance to sense a real Islington ghost in a Grade 2 listed Georgian house has to be the icing on the cake? Enjoy the show.
Estorick Collection,¬†39a Canonbury Square,¬†London N1 2AN¬†@Estorick
Wednesday to Saturday:¬†11.00 ‚Äď 18.00
Sunday 12.00 ‚Äď 17.00
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Tip:¬†become an Estorick member for ¬£20 (¬£15 with discounts) and see all exhibitions free, use the art library and get discounts at the caf√©.
La Dolce Vita ‚Äď an Italian expression meaning ‚Äėsweet life‚Äô became popularly understood only after Fellini‚Äôs film which came out in 1960. The concept of the paparazzo was also introduced to the world in that film.
Over to you
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This blog is inspired by¬†Spitalfields Life¬†written by the Gentle Author.
Thanks for stopping by. Nicola