Franco Russoli (1923-1977) was the charismatic and brilliant Director of the Pinacoteca di Brera for over thirty years, from 1954 to 1977, and the Superintendent of Monuments and Galleries of Lombardy.
An advocate of the idea of the living museum, Franco Russoli contributed to definitively abandoning the 19th-century concept of the monument museum.
His untimely death in 1977, when he was only 54 years old and just a few months after the inauguration of the innovative and unconventional exhibition "Processo per il Museo", came like a bolt from the blue for all the people that had believed in the possibility of the Great Brera: a museum pole at the forefront of exhibitions, museology, education, library and conservation, involved as he used to say in "every aspect and level of social life", and in constant dialogue with public, contemporary artists and private collectors.
Today, the Pinacoteca di Brera remembers and celebrates him with the special event Franco Russoli Pop Up: three drawings that the Director commissioned in the 1970s from the artists Graham Sutherland, Valerio Adami and Jean Giraud (Moebius) will be exhibited in the Napoleonic rooms, in dialogue respectively with Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of St Mark, Antonio Canova, Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker and Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, St Mark Preaching in Alexandria.
Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of St Mark, 1562 - 1566. Oil on canvas, cm 396 x 400.
Room IX. Courtesy Pinacoteca di Brera.
Graham Sutherland, d’après Tintoretto, The Finding of the Body of St Mark, 1976.
Gouache on paper. Room IX. Courtesy Pinacoteca di Brera.
In the 1976 exhibition "Processo per il Museo", a particular importance was given to the so-called d'après, drawings commissioned by Russoli to some of the best-known artists of his time to reinterpret and translate the paintings from historical Brera’s permanent collection. They were the protagonists of the exhibition section 'Brera e gli artisti contemporanei. Documenti di un rapporto'.
At the time, besides Sutherland, Adami and Giraud, other artists such as Henry Moore, Renato Guttuso, Michel Folon, Fausto Melotti, Milton Glaser, Enrico Baj, Pietro Cascella, Giacomo Manzù, Bruno Munari, Roberto Sambonet, Giulio Paolini, Luciano Minguzzi and Ennio Morlotti had also enthusiastically joined the initiative.
Franco Russoli's relationship with Graham Sutherland certainly deserves to be explored. Russoli had a particular interest in the English artist. He had the chance to curate Sutherland's largest Italian retrospective exhibition at the Galleria d'Arte Moderna in Turin in 1965 - in collaboration with Vittorio Viale and Douglas Cooper - as well as the 1968 documentary about the artist 'The mirror and the mirage' again written with Douglas Cooper and directed by Pier Paolo Ruggerini.
Cover of the Graham Sutherland exhibition's catalogue, Turin 1965.
Russoli and Sutherland's friendship and meetings in Milan, Menton and Venice are also testified by a dense correspondence now preserved in the Franco Russoli Archive.
Franco Russoli. Courtesy Pinacoteca di Brera.