Roberta Cremoncini: Estorick Director

14 May

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story.  Do you know this Islington art gallery? The world-famous collection of Italian Futurist art at the Estorick Collection, off Highbury Corner, attracts 1,000s of visitors, but for many it’s been thought of one of London’s best-kept secrets. Here Roberta Cremoncini talks about art, the new ‘The Years of La Dolce Vita’ exhibition and what she likes about Islington. Interview by Nicola Baird

Roberta Cremoncini: “I’ve been here forever,”

Estorick Collection director: Roberta Cremoncini in her office with the paperweight gift Islington Council gave her after her Citizenship Ceremony in 2004.

“I’ve been here forever,” says the elegant woman in charge of the Estorick’s remarkable Futurist collection of art with a friendly laugh. Roberta Cremoncini studied art history in Florence but has been working at the Estorick Collection since 1997. She was here even before it opened to the public, first as assistant curator, then curator. Since 2001 she’s been the Director – based in an office boasting a colourful Marc Chagall print. The desk is crowded with work but on the hard drive are stuck sweet love notes, in Italian and English, from her seven-year-old bilingual daughter.

“I love Islington,” says Roberta, 50, who now lives so close to her job she doesn’t have to cross the road to get to work. “It seems everyone knows me: I’m the Italian who works at the Estorick. Sometimes that’s daunting, other times it’s great. When I had my first baby, Thomas, everyone stopped me in the Square. I had millions of cards… and when he started going to The Children’s House nursery I got to know so many local people.”

Islington citizenship ceremony
Back in 2004 – before the infamous British Citizenship test was introduced – Roberta took on dual nationality. “I had my citizenship ceremony in Islington. It was a rainy day and I went on my own. I hadn’t realised it was so serious. It was like a wedding: everyone was dressed up, there were photos and food. I was given a glass paperweight from the Borough of Islington (which she keeps on her desk). Afterwards there was a Turkish mezze – that seemed very Islington! My colleague gave me a card with a picture of an English breakfast on it, which seemed very appropriate.”

Her only bugbear about the borough is perhaps what Islington is most famous for, its Italian delis. “I find the Italian connection a bit of a cartoon of Italy. When I turn up at 9am with my children for the Italian School at King’s Cross and no one’s arrived that feels right, it feels Italian, but when deli staff insist on talking in Italian and saying ‘Buon Giorno’ to everyone it’s a bit cheesy… I pretend to be very British, despite my accent, when I go in.”

Places to love in Islington
Roberta Cremoncini who is Director of the Estorick Collection is from Italy but has lived in Islington for years. She loves it here but says: “There have been lots of changes, perhaps some of the special things have been diluted.”

  • Upper Street is more mainstream but it has certain nice shops like 20/21 and Aria. I still go to Angel shopping centre and I am looking forward to Muji opening, it’s my kind of shop.

  • My children love fish and chips so I go to Seafish on Upper Street for birthdays or during the week. It’s got nice tables and you don’t come out smelling of fish.

  • For lunch I like the Workers’ Café also on Upper Street. It’s been there forever – I first went there in 1997.

  • I like Highbury Fields for a picnic.

  • I sometimes go to the little pub, the Compton Arms but a half is probably enough for me.

  • I loved the Little Angel puppet theatre when the children were younger.

  • Last Christmas the Estorick celebrated with a dinner at Gem on Upper Street. I also go there regularly.

Estorick xxx

The Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, N1 has a peaceful garden and cafe as well as the world famous collection of Italian Futurist art and exhibitions. Current show is black and white photos from the 1950s and 1960s ‘The Years of La Dolce Vita’. Nearest tube/station is Highbury and Islington.

How well do you know the Estorick?
For many years the elegant Georgian home of the Estorick Collection was an artificial flower factory. The factory closed back in 1968 but for the first decade of Italian-born Roberta Cremoncini’s working life with the Estorick – she joined in 1997 – she remembers meeting “people who lived in Canonbury Square and had worked at the factory.”

The permanent collection was formed by Eric Estorick (1913-1993) and his wife Salome (1920-1983) during the 1950s. It’s a world-boasting collection of Italian Futurist art with work including Balla, Boccioni and Severini. There are also pieces by de Chirico, Modigliani and Morandi.


Visitors to the Estorick enjoy leaving feedback.

“We are here by chance,” admits Roberta. “When the Foundation was set up, the son of Eric (Michael Estorick, now the chairman) used to live in Highbury and often passed this building, which was for sale.” By 1994 the Estorick Collection had its Islington home. By 1998 it was open with enough space for a pretty garden and café. There’s a fee to see the art, but for an annual membership of £20 a year the shows are free and there’s a café discount.

“We could double our visitor numbers and still feel special – we are a bit bored of being London’s best-kept secret,” says Roberta with a laugh. In fact the Estorick’s permanent collection of Italian Futuristic art and exhibitions attracts 20-25,000 visitors a year. Until 29 June you can also see The Years of ‘La Dolce Vita’ –two rooms of black and white paparazzi shots of the stars.

“This will appeal to the public there are fun shots, famous people in Rome with recognisable faces. It’s the ‘50s and ‘60s. You have the allure of Rome and the beautiful photography,” explains Roberta who is pleased with the media coverage of the exhibition in its first week. She obviously loves this era and is enjoying offering a more populist show.

“They are so beautiful, look at their elegance,” says Roberta as she takes me around the room of Marcello Geppetti’s images. Brigitte Bardot with her beehive and plaits looks adorable. Jayne Mansfield is posing with a dish (Mike Hargarty) and spaghetti. Audrey Hepburn is a fashion stylist’s dream in scarf, swing coat, gloves and an outsize handbag, which is roomy enough for the dog trotting beside her.  Roberta then leads me into the next gallery to see some rather different shots – stars attacking the photographers. The image of Federico Fellini’s star Anita Ekberg, in stockinged feet, putting an arrow on to her bow to menace photographers is as hard to forget as her antics in Rome’s famous Trevi Fountain were in the 1960s film La Dolce Vita.

“When we first arrived it wasn’t easy – we were not liked by the locals at first. But that’s changed dramatically,” explains Roberta. “People like the collections, the paintings, the building, the coffee, the garden and the fact I’ve been here forever… “

Of course there is the £20 offer for annual membership – plus a rather special bonus, the chance to see the Estorick’s ghost. “The building hasn’t been lived in since 1916,” explains Roberta. “Our ghost is a horseman – at least our caretaker used to say that. He’s been seen in Gallery 2. I’m convinced,” she adds. If the potent mix of garden café, celebrity photos and Italian art isn’t enough, then surely the chance to sense a real Islington ghost in a Grade 2 listed Georgian house has to be the icing on the cake? Enjoy the show.

Estorick Collection, 39a Canonbury Square, London N1 2AN @Estorick

Tel. 020 7704 9522,

Opening times

Wednesday to Saturday: 11.00 – 18.00
Sunday 12.00 – 17.00
Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Tip: become an Estorick member for £20 (£15 with discounts) and see all exhibitions free, use the art library and get discounts at the café.

La Dolce Vita – an Italian expression meaning ‘sweet life’ became popularly understood only after Fellini’s film which came out in 1960. The concept of the paparazzo was also introduced to the world in that film.

Over to you

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z index of posts, or the A-Z of jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. 

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This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

Thanks for stopping by. Nicola


3 Responses to “Roberta Cremoncini: Estorick Director”

  1. Nicolette May 14, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Love the gallery and the café. So interested to hear about Roberta. Must come and see this exhibition, which sounds lovely. Good think I don’t believe in ghosts.

    • Nicolette May 14, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

      Oops. thing not think

      • nicola baird blogs May 14, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

        Nicolette, I just love the fact that the Estorick Collection is in such a beautiful house – which used to be an artificial flower factory! We should go ghost spotting together, I imagine neither of us would see it…

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