London based gallerists Marie and Roberto Gagliardi really did escape to the country when they bought an empty hotel in Chianciano Terme and transformed it into a museum to house their art collection. The Museum of Art of Chianciano is open from June to September and also hosts a biennial which is due to take place this Autumn. Gregg Lopez visited and found this sleepy town full of charm and curiosity.
If you’re an art lover thinking of taking a road trip to Tuscany (and, really, who isn’t?) type Chianciano Terme into your GPS (assuming you’re in Western Europe) and let the satellite guide you through the winding country roads and amber-laced vistas that inspired the Renaissance. When the sun begins to set you’ll recognize the famous sombre hillsides from oh-so-many restaurant landscape paintings, the golden aura that captivated Diane Lane in Under The Tuscan Sun and helped her heal from her divorce and find romance once again. You will also find the Chianciano Art Museum, the collection of London-based Italian collector Roberto Gagliardi housed in a four-storey former hotel.
There are so many beautiful mid-century hotels in the area that it seemed odd how empty the town was during my visit in July. In the hot summer months most tourists, it seems, clamour for places less landlocked, perhaps unaware of the thermal spas that are right in the centre of town.
Look for the building with the sign that says ‘Art Museum’ in block type (and not ‘Hotel’ or ‘Nail Salon’) and you’re in the right place. Upon entering, it’s likely you’ll be startled by a dark figure sitting facing the front door, a shiny black mannequin wearing a floral print shirt and holding a mandolin. “I know, it even scares me sometimes when I come down here,” admits Marie Gagliardi (the owner of the museum) when I arrive.
‘it’s likely you’ll be startled by a dark figure sitting facing the front door’
It’s the first of many mannequins you’ll see at the Chianciano Museum, in addition to paintings and sculptures by artists spanning the ages, from antiquity to the modern day. Marie explains that she and her husband own a vast collection of vintage clothing and, rather than keep it in a separate room, they’ve placed items on mannequins throughout the galleries. The mannequins have then been positioned as though viewing the artworks, and themselves form part of an exhibition called ArteModa.
The Gagliardis continue our tour across four floors and three thousand square metres of classic, contemporary and historical works by the likes of Louden, Liu, Rembrandt and Goya, alongside sketches by Toulouse Lautrec, Munch and Magritte, a 1950 portrait of Umberto II, figurines from China’s Han Dynasty, W.A Turner’s self-portrait and many paintings from the tortured psyche of Frances Turner (no relation) whom the Gagliardis supported (“She came in here and asked us if we wanted to represent her”, Marie tells me).
From September 5 to 13, the museum will host the Fourth Chianciano Biennale of Contemporary Art, bringing together some of the finest contemporary artists from around the world. The work will replace the regular collection and be lovingly displayed in the museum itself, but the festival takes over this whole town, with concerts and parties – and it’s all free.
This is an area steeped in rich cultural diversity and artistically inspiring scenery. In many ways it’s the perfect location for an international art festival. The sleepy town will instantly come alive.