Lola Costa exhibition at Il Palmerino

Lola Costa exhibition at Il Palmerino

"Return Home" features the estate’s garden, fruits and flowers with early twentieth-century flair.

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Thu 27 Jun 2024 3:16 PM

If you follow the Affrico stream towards Fiesole, you will eventually reach an unmissable metal gate. Turn right when you reach it, away from the water’s edge, immediately followed by another right. With that, you will reach via Il Palmerino 6, the last hillside estate still considered to be Florence. Until September 26, you can visit its colonica for the art exhibition Return Home: Lola Costa at Il Palmerino, and if you do, you’ll understand that the “home” to which the title refers is partly yours as well. Why? Because culture lovers are genuinely welcome there.

Lola Costa, 1972, Vase with quinces, oil on cardboard, private collection

The statement above rings true because Il Palmerino’s vocation for hospitality was something of a phenomenon at the turn of the twentieth century. You went if you were Edith Wharton seeking insight on Tuscan villa gardens (for what would become a still impressive book). You went if you were painter John Singer Sargent, whose painting of the villa’s then-owner, Vernon Lee, now resides at the Tate. Lee “is faraway the most able mind in Florence,” said Henry James, and smarts were the thing if you had Oscar Wilde coming to Il Palmerino for tea. Vernon Lee, a prolific author whose popularity waned when she declared herself a pacifist at the outbreak of the First World War, had moved to the property in times of cholera, in 1889, to escape the disease outbreak through fresh air and solitude, but for at least two decades after that, she knew very little “alone time”, for her Il Palmerino salon was intellectual home to, well, everyone.

Lola Costa, the English painter and poet, lived at Il Palmerino for nearly 70 years, after the dowry money her father provided proved enough to purchase the estate. Just a few months after Lee’s death in 1935, Lola moved her family there, together with her painter husband, Federigo Angeli. In and overlooking its gardens, the couple began a prolific period of “art solidarity”, rare among history’s artist couples. The estate’s garden and all of its fruits and flowers made their way onto Lola’s canvases with early twentieth-century flair. There was something French in the way she treated her subjects because, in Lola’s first phase, the world’s contemporary art capital was still Paris, not New York. Lola’s domestic scenes—a varnished orange coffee pot, a bowl of fresh-picked pomegranates, the lemons from Lee’s garden, which Lola jealously protected—figure in her works, as if offered on a tray, and the one meant to be enjoying her bounty is you. 

Quinces with rolling pin Lola Costa

Lola’s Return Home show at Il Palmerino’s Cultural Association, founded by Costa’s daughter Beatrice and her granddaughters in 2008, can be visited on summer afternoons, from Tuesdays to Saturdays, or by prior appointment (associazione@ilpalmerino.it). The exhibition is the kick-off event of a three-year program titled A Florentine Garden: Early Women Ex-pats and Artists of Today co-organized by Il Palmerino Cultural Association and Calliope Arts, in conjunction with The British Institute of Florence. As the title suggests, the new program foresees lectures, exhibitions and cultural events spotlighting the “English colony” in Florence from a female perspective. A residency grant for two contemporary artists also forms part of the project. 

Lola Costa and her show will be featured in Issue One of a brand-new notebook-style publication called The Curators’ Quaderno, created by Calliope Arts and published by The Florentine Press. This magazine’s raison d’être is to gather insight on women’s achievements, from curators and field experts working to safeguard and promote their legacy for the future. English author and academic Claudia Tobin, curator of Garden Bohemia, the current exhibition at London’s Garden Museum, is one of the curators featured. “For late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century women, through times of personal and national crises, gardens became places of sanctuary and experiment, where ideas about creativity and domesticity, nature and relationships could be uprooted and redefined,” writes Tobin. Lola’s garden “sanctuary” continues to thrive, unchanged. It is something of a secret garden, like those found in the Lee’s forgotten garden essays or captured on canvas in the bright shades of a new century, through Lola Costa’s little-known oeuvre. Both, you’ll agree, are due for exploration this summer.

Women artists

A Painter’s Florentine Garden: Lola Costa and Il Palmerino

Choose between PDF Digital edition or Paper copy delivered to your home – FREE SHIPPING IN ITALY ONLY.

The Curators’ Quaderno is a collection of notebook-style publications, conceived by Calliope Arts, in collaboration with The Florentine Press, to raise awareness of women’s contributions to the fields of art, science and culture.

Text language: English

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Return Home is part of Estate Florentine 2024, an initiative proposed in the Operational Plan of the City of Florence.

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