Fortunato Depero’s Distrattamente mise il Bitter Campari in testa (1928). Courtesy Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art


It’s an image which will pause you in your tracks, just as it’s designed to do.

A clown, dressed in red-and-white polka dot, stands with one leg raised, his weight taken by orange peel that corkscrews around him like a waft of smoke. His face, painted white; his hair, blue.

The primary colours of Leonetto Cappiello’s Lo Spiritello (The Sprite) stand out vividly against a pitch-black background; it’s an image you will carry with you on your way home, the odds are good that what you will also remember is what the smiling circus performer holds in his upraised hand – a bottle of Campari.

Leonetto Cappiello’s Lo Spiritello (The Sprite). Courtesy Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Roberta Cremoncini, Director of the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, said: “It’s the fun element that came into their work that became part of Campari’s brand.

“They fundamentally changed the way we look at advertising – the element of approaching it as a piece of art. If people are going past at speed, you want something strong and iconic, which you wouldn’t get if it was a watercolour.

“My favourite piece keeps changing – [Marcello Nizzoli’s] still-lifes sit interestingly with the futurist pieces in our permanent collection.”

Milanese liqueur company Campari was founded in 1860, but it was under the oversight of Davide Campari (1867-1936) that the company’s posters and packaging began to feature a veritable roll-call of the cutting edge of modern Italian art and design.

Visitors to the Estorick’s two-room collection (on loan from the Galleria Campari) can track an evolving line from the Art Nouveau stylings of master poster designer Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962), to the Futurist visions of Fortunato Depero (1892-1960), which modernised and defined the brand.

Depero was an idealist who co-wrote with Giacomo Balla in 1915 the manifesto ‘Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe.’ Balla and Depero’s opening gambit states: “We will give skeleton and flesh to the invisible, the impalpable, the imponderable and the imperceptible. We will find abstract equivalents for every form and element in the universe, and then we will combine them according to the caprice of our imagination…” Clearly, we are not talking about just any old advert here.

In the Estorick’s Gallery 2, Depero’s ink drawings have their own well-deserved wall; black on white geometric characters jump off the page with joyful dynamism, whilst never forgetting to make us aware that what they are celebrating is, of course, Campari.

It is not just the level of ambition that sets The Art of Campari apart from other advertising campaigns, but technical skill.

Tucked away in a corner of Gallery One is Ugo Mochi’s Untitled (1920s), a collection of painstakingly handcrafted silhouettes. In Mochi’s tableaux, millimetre-thick wafts of smoke drift up from ashtrays as Campari connoisseurs are captured in various poses of enjoyment.

In the central piece, a dog jumps at with excitement at a Campari poster-within-the-poster featuring another dog – the illusion of depth, combined with the clear flourish of Mochi’s wit on display here, justifiably earned him worldwide renown as an illustrator, sculptor and designer.

The happy collision between an artistic period searching for impactful form, and a wealthy company looking for the most vivid means of attracting customers, is certain to keep visitors to the Estorick fascinated for the length of the exhibit. Be warned, however – you may leave a little thirsty…

The Art of Campari runs from July 4th until September 16th 2018. More information here