The Dream of Lady Florence Phillips exhibition currently showing at Siena’s Santa Maria della Scala features a collection of masterpieces belonging to the Johannesburg Art Gallery.
The collection comprises 64 works, including oil, watercolour and graphic oeuvres, bridging over 100 years of international art history, dating from the mid-nineteenth to the late-twentieth century. Degas, Monet, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Matisse, Modigliani, Turner, Rodin, Moore, Lichtenstein, Derain, Pissarro, Corot, Sargent, Sisley, Bacon, Rossetti, Warhol, Signac and Picasso are among the artists’ works on display in this seminal exhibition for Siena.
Lady Florence Phillips is the star of the show who founded the Johannesburg Art Gallery in 1910. Born in Cape Town in 1863, Florence Ortlepp was the only daughter of Albert Frederick Ortlepp, a Colesberg land surveyor and naturalist, and Sarah Walker. In 1885, Florence married Lionel Phillips, a merchant’s son from London, and they moved to Johannesburg. In 1892, Lionel was appointed president of the Chamber of Mines, gaining power and pursuing his political interests, which led to his personal involvement in the Jameson Raid, the botched British attempt to overthrow the South African government. Phillips was sentenced to death, but was freed and forced into exile in England. Florence accompanied her husband north and began to foster her love of art and belief into its ability to do good for the weaker members of society. On her return to Johannesburg in 1906, her dream to accomplish something meaningful for South Africa began to take shape by taking the first steps towards founding an art gallery of an international caliber. A collector of African artefacts, Lady Phillips did everything in her power to protect and promote native traditions.
The exhibition begins with a portrait of Lady Florence Phillips, age 46, by Antonio Mancini, alongside the mission of the Johannesburg Art Gallery in her own words: “We can hope that a South African Art School and the study of masterpieces grow in the future to the point whereby we are able to guarantee help also to encourage local artists at this gallery.”
The first section of the show concentrates on the English nineteenth century, with art by William Turner, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais and Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, while the second part shows a group of French works dating to the mid-nineteenth century with views of the cliffs of Normandy by Étretat di Gustave Courbet. Monet, Sisley, Degas and Guillaumin are next up with their Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, in addition to two masterworks by Paul Signac and a landscape by Lucien Pissarro.
Sculptures by Auguste Rodin and Aristide Maillol mark the beginning of the twentieth-century section, with the strictness of André Derain contrasting with the avant-garde approach of Ossip Zadkine, the unmistakable elegance of Amedeo Modigliani and the perspective of Henri Matisse. An anguished male portrait by Francis Bacon, an intense charcoal sketch by Henry Moore and two Pop Art masterpieces by Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol encapsulate the collection’s late twentieth-century works. The show closes with a section focusing on African art and three striking works by William Kentridge.
Il sogno di Lady Florence Phillips – La Collezione della Johannesburg Art Gallery
Siena, Santa Maria della Scala
Until January 10, 2021
Tickets cost 5 euro, free for children under 11 years