Best in show - Museums Association

Best in show

Lights at Sunset in Ostia by Tullio Crali, 1930, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London
John Holt
Edit Tullio Crali, Lights At Sunset In Ostia, 1930
Edit Tullio Crali, Lights At Sunset In Ostia, 1930 Private collection
Chris Adams
Assistant curator, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London

For me, Tullio Crali’s work sums up the very best of Futurist imagery; it’s dynamic, robust and sometimes aggressive but it also has a lyrical and poetic undercurrent and continues to look very modern. 

Like many of his Futurist contemporaries in 1920s Italy, Crali loved exploring the excitement offered by the development of manned flight through aeropittura (aeropainting) which featured stylised depictions of aeroplanes, engines and the vertigo-inducing aerial views of landscapes they made possible. 

Futurists were fascinated with scientific discoveries and how they could expand the human experience. There are, of course, negative aspects to the encroachment into our lives of the machine – look at how air travel is now viewed with some suspicion – but the Futurists firmly believed in technological progress swelling the human spirit rather than enslaving it. 

This very colourful and positive image was painted around a year after Crali joined the Futurist movement. He was finding his way and was influenced by the work of his peers, particularly Gerardo Dottori’s aeropainting of the rolling landscapes of Umbria, seen from such an immense altitude that the curvature of the Earth is visible. 

Crali explored both the physical and metaphysical implications of rising above Earthly concerns and he spoke about flight in almost spiritual terms as a purifying experience. 


In this picture, you can make out the coastline in the distance while the bold arch figure in the centre is an example of Crali’s use of abstraction to underscore certain aspects of figurative imagery which gave his paintings an extra dimension without venturing into a totally abstract style. 

While he was obviously very interested in the way technology could complement our life experiences – his muse was always the machine - the natural world still had a place in his artwork. 

This was particularly true with his sassintesi pieces; the term is a fusion of the Italian words for stones and synthesis and the resulting works were depictions of geological formations inspired by trips to the Brittany coastline. 

Made in stone, they are completely different from the rest of his work. When we were hanging the original exhibition – which had to close early because of the coronavirus pandemic -a technician actually asked who the artist behind the sassintesi was as it seemed obvious to him they were not by the same artist who created the paintings. 

Having created aeropittura when manned flight was in its infancy, Crali continued to explore the possibilities of transport technology with a series of pictures during the space race that depicted extra-terrestrial landscapes. They look like early ‘cosmic’ LP sleeves. 

Looking at this picture, it’s easy to be caught up in Crali’s enthusiasm and faith in scientific progress. It’s as if he’s saying that there are better days ahead … and that’s a wonderfully optimistic sentiment for these troubling times. 


The original exhibition, Tullio Crali: A Futurist Life, which opened in January, can now be viewed online

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