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L. Pescador, 1995















The African collection of Alberto Magnelli, who was born in Florence in 1888 and died in Meudon, France in 1971, largely composed of high quality works, mostly from Gabon, Ivory coast and Mali, was established primarily in the thirties.


Magnelli had a very intimate and loving relationship with his pieces to the point of taking them with him during the summer to his studio in Grasse. The artist gave this explanation of the reasons for his interest in the African arts:

What attracts me the most in the black art first of all is the plastic strength and the invention of shapes. Obviously the significance of these masks, of these fetishes, of these objects, their use and their magic interest me, but after the same sculptural fact. As a painter, especially the “manner” with which these African or Oceanian sculptors have placed or powerfully resolved plastic problems, their means of expression and the extraordinary wealth of invention that they have used to realize their works, with a limited time at their disposal, without any concern for hours, days nor months needed. You can feel it, you can see that they have put in all the time needed and whatever is the region of origin, they have always been themselves. That is what I find great and admire”.




Alberto Magnelli's first stay in Paris was from march to June 1914.

In Paris he met the Italian futurists and particularly a friend of his, the painter and critic Ardengo Soffici (co-founder  of the magazine Lacerba in 1913 at Florence), then he became close friends with Apollinaire, meeting Picasso, Max Jacob, Fernand Léger, Juan Gris, Archipenko and Matisse.


Paris, at that time, was not only the capital of cubism but the actual location of the discovery of the world of modern art, of the “Black art”. While Vlaminck, Derain, Matisse, Braque and Picasso gathered (towards 1905-1908) the first copies of their collection of primitive arts, a second group of specialized amateurs began to organize particularly around Appollinare.

Among these, the sculptor-merchant Brunner and starting from 1911, the future gallery owner Paul Guillaume. Magnelli claimed to have bought his first object, the mask Pounou (below), in 1913 by a sailor at the port of Marseille.



Back to Italy in July of 1914 up till October of 1931, the artist experienced the transition to the abstract and then returned to the archaic figuration that was referential in the Italian art of the 14th and 15th centuries but since 1931, with the Stones serie inspired by the vision of the  marble of Carrara, the concerns of the architectural construction of volumes were in first place in his research. This period was just before his return to Paris and the final escape from Italy. In contact with Kandinsky starting from 1933, Magnelli soon travelled with the vital current that marked the streets of abstract art in France.

It was probably then that the artist began setting up his own collection of African art, attending antiquaries and marchés aux pouces. About his collection (which at the end of the 60's included approximately 200 pieces) we can emphasize the exceptional quality and deep consistency that gives a deep indisputable stylistic identity to the whole.


The Magnelli collection included in its originality two types of collection of “primitive” arts: the "collection of artists" (Matisse, Picasso, Braque, Vlaminck) characterized by the rarity of objects of great level, with emphasis on the stylistic choices and brutal and excessive expressive geometric deformation and the collections of the “merchants/amateurs” (as Paul Guillaume and Charles Ratton after the First World War) that, on the contrary, stresses their preferences on the works of high quality, evidence of a stylized realism and a refined performance. In the “collection of artists”, Magnelli adopted a focus on the geometry and the pace of expressive forms; in the “amateur collections”, the search for elegance and a taste for figures filled with pride and interiority.






For similar choices, you can find some explanation, since after the end of the II World War, Magnelli had numerous contacts with specialized dealers (René Rasmussen, Olivier Corner and Jean Roudillon) who gave him many masterpieces. In addition, his research and his artistic evolution led him to develop a visual language that attempted to resolve the question of stylization and that of the inclusion of a form in space. In fact, some of his paintings evoke African works, in plastic dynamism supported by contrasts of curves and corners, empty and full, concave and convex surfaces, embodying simple plastic signs with the greatest economic means, obtaining an impressive visual effect.


Susi Magnelli, his wife, donated the Aberto's collection to the National Museum of Modern Art in 1984 while retaining the legal rights. After the death of Susi in 1994, the donation, in accordance with his wishes, was added to other works of great prestige kept in the museum.


Editor's note:

This article was translated and freely adapted from the preface of the exhibition catalogue: LA COLLECTION AFRICAINE D’ALBERTO MAGNELLI. Donation Susi Magnelli. 1995, Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, signed by Jean-Paul Ameline.