Hammer time for Alberto Morrocco’s art

Alberto Morrocco pictured in his studio
Alberto Morrocco pictured in his studio
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IT WAS his family home for almost 30 years and the place from which he became one of Scotland’s most famous and prolific contemporary artists.

Now, Alberto Morrocco’s beloved Binrock House, as well as the contents of his studio overlooking the Tay and 180 remaining paintings, are to be sold in a sale that could raise up to £1.5 million.

The studio sale of the Scottish-Italian painter, head of painting for 30 years at Dundee’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, ranges from intimate portraits of his family and quirky sculptures to easels and even painting smocks. It will also include paintings priced at up to £70,000, as well as a painted guitar and mandolin featured in his colourful works, for as little as £100.

• Read the memories of their father, by Alberto Morrocco’s children:

Leon Morrocco’s recollections

Annalisa Morrocco’s memories

Laurie Morrocco recalls his father

The buyer of the 18th-century house – expected to go on the market for around £750,000 – will get an added bonus in the form of a large mural on the walls of the master bedroom, which his family have decided is too difficult to remove.

Morrocco died in 1998, aged 80, but the sale has been prompted by the death of his widow, Vera, last September. Morrocco’s oldest son Leon said the couple’s children – two sons, Leon and Laurence, and a daughter, Annalisa – were trying “to do the right thing” for the large family collection of his father’s work. “We want to try and get as many of these things out there as possible,” he said. “I’m 70 and Laurence is 65. To some people it looks as if we are after the money but in actual fact the project is to try and disseminate the work as he would have wanted it to be. Of course, there are regrets and it’s kind of sad in one sense, but you have to go forward,” added Leon, who lives in England.

The bedroom mural is a view of the Tuscan hills painted over the couple’s bed and about 25 feet long, Leon said.

Morrocco was born in 1917, in Aberdeen, the son of immigrant Italians. His gift for drawing took him to Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen at the age of 14. A conscientious objector briefly interned during the war at Edinburgh Castle because of his Italian roots, he worked making fake strap-on war wounds out of plaster to use on military exercises. He also painted numbers and insignia on helmets.

In 1950, he became head of the school of painting at Duncan of Jordanstone, part of the University of Dundee, a job he held for three decades. Described by the art critic Duncan Macmillan as the finest Scottish portrait painter of his time, he painted the Queen Mother, Chancellor of the University of Dundee, in 1977.

The works to be put on sale include self-portraits, and portraits and paintings based on his wife Vera and his children. There are also landscapes and colourful and playful works by an artist who often represented himself as a clown.

The family were constant targets for “model duty”, his children remember. “My siblings and I were often called upon to pose for him,” Leon remembers, in one of three introductions they have written for the auction catalogue produced by Christie’s. “In unguarded moments, our childish pursuits would be halted abruptly by a request to ‘just hold that position for a couple of minutes’. This could occur while playing in a rock pool, climbing a garden fence, building a snowman or simply eating cornflakes.”

Morrocco first saw his future wife at the Aberdeen swimming baths, according to family lore, where he turned to a friend and said “now she’d make a good model”. It was the start of a marriage that lasted 50 years, with Vera also a painter.

Picture highlights include Studio Window, Anticoli, of a thoughtful female figure sitting at a table with a window behind her, estimated to sell for £30,000-£50,000 in the July sale. The highest priced is Bathers, Fondachello – a moody, image of figures and a boat on the Mediterranean, with a guide price of £50,000-£70,000.

The sale items will be shown by Christie’s in Edinburgh in June before the sale in South Kensington in July. The family moved to Binrock House in 1969 and it became the setting for lively gatherings of artists and actors. The house, a former 18th-century jute barn with up to nine bedrooms, sits above the Botanic Gardens in the West End of Dundee.

Christie’s specialist Andre Zlattinger said: “We are selling his palettes, easels, some of his brushes, every aspect of what you would expect in a studio sale. It’s very exciting stuff, for us and for collectors. It’s never been seen before outside the family.”