Sculptures, paintings, photos and documents, most of which have never been seen by the public, are being exhibited at Palazzo de La Salle in Valletta to mark 160 years of the Malta Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.
The society had been given a Sacred Heart of Jesus painting by Anthony Inglott, but it seems it was not liked by the ecclesiastical authorities and the society had to commission a new picture
Since its inception in 1852, the society has been promoting Maltese talent and has assisted some of the island’s most prominent artists.
This includes Antonio Sciortino, whom it trained under Vincenzo Cardona, sent abroad for further studies and eventually bought from him his first major work – Les Gavroches – which was donated to the nation.
A replica of Les Gavroches stands in the courtyard of the society’s premises in Republic Street but the exhibition, opening today, includes the original portrait bust of Sir Winston Churchill donated to the former British Prime Minister on his 80th birthday.
It had taken Ċensu Apap just two 15-minute sessions to model the bust at 10 Downing Street in London in 1954. The bronze portrait bust was then given to Churchill at his private residence in London in 1955.
He decided to donate it to the Maltese nation and it was unveiled in 1956 at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta.
Another artist, whom the society sent to the Regia Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome in the 1930s, is Oscar Testa, who placed first in his painting course at the academy and was offered a job as a teacher.
He eventually married the niece of the Pope and settled in Rome, where he became a restorer and carried out some work at the Vatican.
Apart from a selection of its rich art collection, the society will be exhibiting some of its histor-ical archives.
These include the Government Gazette published in November of 1852, which announced the formation of the society’s committee.
Membership used to cost £5 annually and only the elite could afford to join.
Members included politician Herbert Ganado and eye specialist Luigi Preziosi, while Mabel Strickland formed part of the council in the 1960s.
Archaeologist and doctor Sir Temi Zammit held the seat of honorary secretary, and Archbishop Michael Gonzi was one of the patrons of the society.
Sir Gerald Strickland was also appointed as honorary president (and later as vice patron), as it was through his intervention as secretary to the government that the society was granted its first premises – Palazzo Xara in St John’s Street Valletta – in 1896.
When Lord Strickland applied to become a member again in 1939, he was not admitted, but his daughter Mabel applied for membership more than 10 years later, she was accepted.
The current secretary Eman Grima said the society was born when the Royal Society of Arts in the UK decided to branch out in the colonies to promote arts, manufacture and commerce.
At the exhibition there are two signed pictures of tenors Oreste Kirkop and Paul Asciak who were awarded a gold medal for their contribution to the musical field.
Another interesting artwork is Emvin Cremona’s Sacred Heart of Jesus, which hangs in the main exhibition hall. Initially, the society had been given a Sacred Heart of Jesus painting by Anthony Inglott, but it seems this major artwork was not liked by the ecclesiastical authorities.
The society had to commission a new picture in 1951 on the same subject through a public competition, which was won by Cremona.
The new picture was blessed by Archbishop Gonzi on the occasion of the consecration of the Society to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, marking its 100th anniversary.
This exhibition is the closing event of a whole year of activities organised by the society to mark its 160th anniversary.
It will be held at the halls of Palazzo de La Salle, 219, Republic Street in Valletta between today and December 22 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm), and January 2 and 19 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm, Saturday from 9am to noon).
Entrance is free.
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