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Around the galleries

Alberto Morrocco – bringing Italian sunshine to the heart of Scotland

— July 2012

Associated media

Alberto Morrocco, R.S.A., R.S.W. (1917–98), Clown with Pigeon and Maracca, 1996, oil on board 7.1/4 x 5.3/4 in. (18.4 x 14.6 cm.) Estimate: £4,000-6,000

Patricia Andrew enjoys ‘A Celebration: The Studio of Alberto Morrocco & Binrock House, Dundee’

Alberto Morrocco (1917–98) was a Scottish artist and teacher, born in Aberdeen to immigrant Italian parents.  After attending Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen, he spent most of his professional life in Dundee, where he taught at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and became Head of the School of Painting. After retiring from his post in 1982, he continued to produce a great deal of new work.

What makes Morrocco’s work so exciting (and indeed cheering) is his bold and brightly coloured palette, and his joyful and often humorous approach to life. He constantly painted his family, and the places he knew and visited, and his affection for his subjects is very much in evidence. Much of the material for his reliefs and sculptures was collected on his travels, to form very witty visual puns.

This can be seen in an exhibition, prior to a sale, of much of the contents of Morrocco’s personal studio from his home at Binrock House, Dundee. Over 180 items are included, of all types, for in addition to many works of art from different periods of the artist’s life, there are easels and palettes, ephemera and furniture.

Morrocco’s style demonstrates the influences of Picasso, Giacometti and others. Sunshine permeates much of his work, and people are everywhere, whether sunbathing on beaches, promenading in the streets, relaxing in gardens or busy at home. His many indoor scenes and portraits also show the influence of Bonnard, with their interest in patterned surfaces and in everyday themes and activities.

The visual contrast between Italy and the east coast of Scotland could hardly be more extreme. Yet growing up as a member of a family ice-creamery business, Morrocco was, in a sense, part of the sunshine that his family brought to the city. The Scottish winter is not ignored, for he painted snow scenes too, including one of Binrock House.  

It is difficult to select highlights, for there is such a good range of Morrocco’s work here. For me, the group of self-portraits really stand out. One small oil sketch of 1943 (lot 30) shows the young artist as self-consciously cocky, a contrast to the large and complex Documentary Self-Portrait of 1975 (lot 31) in which the none-too handsome, balding artist looks at himself both quizzically and humorously. Three views of his face run along the top of the composition, while a back view of the artist at work forms the forms the central focus below, and small vignettes run down each side.  

The artist’s children have written joyous accounts of their father for the catalogue. Particularly memorable are the order-in-chaos of family trips aboard, the collecting of objects to be used for art works back home, and the problem of transporting canvases still wet with paint. But life moves on, as his son Leon commentsin the press release:

My brother, sister and I have so many vivid and often wonderfully eccentric memories of our father. We each played our part in his artistic career, posing for hours on end and beach combing with him as children, and even inadvertently lending our toys as his inspiration. He never stopped drawing or creating, even at the dinner table he’d mould objects from bread or the red wax around the Edam cheese. Having remained as a practically untouched shrine to his life and his work, it is time for Binrock House to be filled with new memories, and so we look forward to sharing our father’s extensive oeuvre with the world…

The next generation of Morroccos have also followed an artistic path, and Leon’s work is currently the subject of a selling show at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh (22 June–10 July). His style is clearly related to his father’s, but it is also very much his own. To go from an exhibition of one to the other within a few hundred yards was a delight.


Patricia Andrew
Art historian

Media credit: Image courtesy Christie's, South Kensington

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