Family correspondence & photos
Correspondence with international artists and
Correspondence with personalities of the fashion
Il Lavoro (1930’s), Il Tempo (1939),
Fronte, Giornale del Soldato (1941),
(1938), Il Popolo d'Italia (1939), Il Messaggero (1949), Il Mattino, Il Giornale d'Italia (1951), Il Corriere della
Sera (1952), Il Corriere d'Informazione (1966)
Ateneo Veneto (1937), Omnibus (1937-38), Il Secolo
Illustrato (1938 La Posta dei Timidi),
Il Mediterraneo: Settimanale Politico
IIlustrato (1941), Film (1939), Cineillustrato (1941),
Mediterranea, Almanacco di Sicilia (1948/49), Rivista
della Biennale di Venezia, Domus (1950), Scena Illustrata, L'Illustrazione Italiana, Le Vie
d'Italia, Touring Club Italiano (1951), Grazia, Ecco, Novellissima, La Settimana Incom,
L'Europeo, Annabella, Harper's Bazaar (1950’s),
Domina, La Fiera Letteraria, Goya-Revista de Arte, Edilizia Moderna, Rivista
Finsider, Video-La rivista della televisione (1967/68/69).
Olga a Belgrado,
Vallecchi, Firenze 1943
Usi e Costumi,
1920-1940, Donatello de Luigi, Roma 1944
Le Visite, Casa
Editrice Partenia, Roma 1944
Images de Lautrec,
Carlo Bestetti, Edizioni d'arte/Collezione dell’Obelisco, Roma
Femmes de Lautrec,
Carlo Bestetti, Edizioni d'arte/Collezione dell’Obelisco, Roma
I Segreti del Successo, Colombo Editore, Roma 1954 (Contessa Clara)
Il Galateo, Colombo
Editore, Roma 1959 (Contessa Clara)
Recently re-published books (foreign editions not
Usi e costumi 1920-1940, Ed. Sellerio, Palermo 1981
Il Dizionario del successo e dell'insuccesso, Ed. Sellerio, Palermo 1986
Le Visite, Ed.
Sellerio, Palermo 1991
(1938-39), Ed. Sellerio, Palermo 1994
Was born in 1914 in the small city of Sasso near
Bordighera on the Italian Riviera, one of two daughters of a general of
the Italian army and an Austrian-Jewish mother who introduced her to
literature, art and languages.
Her real name was Maria Vittoria Rossi and though
she became known to the world as Irene Brin her pseudonyms were as
numerous as the faces of her personality (1932 Marlene, '34, Oriane,
'36 Mariù, '38 Marina Turr e Geraldine Tron, Maria del Corso,
'40 Vida, Ortensia, Contessa Clara, Madame d'O, Cécil
Not yet twenty, she wrote as Mariù and then
as the Proustian Oriane in the daily Genoese paper “Il Lavoro”.
Shortly thereafter she was “invented” (as she liked to
joke) “Irene Brin” by Leo Longanesi who invited her to
write for his high-brow magazine “Omnibus” in 1937.
Three years earlier at a Cavalry party at the
Excelsior Hotel in Rome she had met the young Eritrean-born
officer Gaspero del Corso. The two fell in love over a conversation on
Marcel Proust and after four subsequent encounters got married for
Gaspero was an art lover and collector, a curious
reader and a passionate traveller.
Together they travelled all over the world,
gathering knowledge, contacts, art, ideas and the vision that made them
leading figures in the Italian post-World War II art scene. Their minds
and eyes were open to cultural diversity, to non-traditional media, and
to crossing the accepted boundaries of “fields” and “disciplines”.
In 1943 the couple settled down in Rome. Gaspero,
who had never wanted a military career, was hiding from the army and
had brought home thirty-seven people who were all in hiding for
various reasons. The only income, of these now thirty-nine person
household, was generated by Irene’s translations that kept
diminishing as she stopped working for publishers that had passed into
To raise money Irene decided to sell their wedding
gifts which included, besides a crocodile leather purse, prints and
drawings by Picasso, Matisse, Morandi, and various art books. She
accepted a sales-person position on commission at a local art and book
store: La Margherita. Gaspero, for whom Alberto Savinio had
created a false ID under the name of Ottorino Maggiore, helped her by
finding merchandise and buyers.
One day a young man stopped by the store and
offered Irene a portfolio of gorgeous ink drawings. His name was Renzo
Vespignani. Those drawings were bought and sold on the same day: it was
the first sale of the artist and the first purchase of Irene and
Gaspero. Shortly after La Margherita was sold. Gaspero and Irene, who
saw in that purchase the beginning of a business that fit their ideals
and lifestyle, rented a small local with basement on Via Sistina, 146.
That day the Galleria l’Obelisco was born to become one of the most exceptional art
enterprises of the 20th century.
Irene was a brilliant and witty writer, a
sophisticated beauty, and had extraordinary business and networking
skills. She was as intrigued with fashion as much as she was with art
and obsessive about combining the two, by bringing fashion models into
art studios, proposing daring comparisons between dresses and
sculptures, or simply by having her favorite purse designed by Salvador
Writing in the Settimana
Incom under the name of Contessa Clara
(whose identity was revealed only when the column was cancelled) she
became the mentor of the the post-war Italian woman and answered
thousands of letters on style, manners, love, cooking,
house-decorating, personal hygene, and family matters. Every year on
December 31 she destroyed all the letters she had received.
In 1950, while walking with Gaspero on Park Avenue
in New York, Irene was approached by a lady who asked her where she had
bought such a stylish suit.
A great supporter of Italian fashion design, Irene
lured the lady into a conversation about the incredible cut and fabrics
of Fabiani. The “lady” turned out to be Harper’s Bazaar’s
fashion editor Diana Vreeland. That year Irene became the first Italian
contributor of the magazine and the voice of Italian fashion in New
Irene Brin’s reviews of Pucci, of the
Fontana sisters and Fabiani in Harper’s
Bazaar at a time when there was not
yet the concept of “made in italy” and fashion was only
French, served as a launching platform for the famous fashion show of
1951 at the house of the Marchese Giovanni Battista Giorgini. Giorgini,
with whom Irene maintained an extensive correspondence, hosted at his
house the first group of American buyers and initiated the tradition of
Florence fashion shows that since then takes place every year at
At every Pitti show Irene had her special chair
next to her friend painter and cartoonist Brunetta Mateldi whose images
mirrored and affectionately guided Italian women as much as did Irene’s
Irene was not less succesful in exporting emerging
Italian artists. Between 1948 and 1953 she organized numerous exchanges
with the MoMA and the Brooklyn Museum.
In 1953 and 1954 she found support and
collaboration in her friend Hélena Rubinstein to create an
impressive traveling exhibition called “America in the Eyes of
Twenty Italian Artists” which gave unprecedented exposure to a
diverse and rather wide group of Italian artists.
With the same enthusiasm she and Gaspero brought
Italian art to South America and all over Europe, and premiered in her
small space in Rome cutting-edge artists including the Anglo-American
contingent of Robert Rauschenberg, Francis Bacon, David Hockney,
Alexander Calder, and Saul Steinberg, as well as the Brazilian
avantgarde of Flavio de Carvalho and Sergio Camargo.
In almost 30 years under the curatorship and
vision of Brin and Del Corso the Obelisco Gallery brought to the Roman
public a range of art trends and media that competes with that of many
contemporary museums and public art spaces.
Their aesthetic choices were consistently
unconventional, their policies were mostly so ahead of their time that
only after half a century they start been understood, the look of their
graphics and publications was always clever and refreshing as well as
proudly home made.
In the mid 1950’s she was asked by a wealthy
Latin American businessman to be the spokesperson for his brand of
olive oil. She did it with great humor and in return obtained his
sponsorship for a Latin American tour of the Obelisco’s artists.
Irene knew very well how to improvise and enjoyed
bringing her little twists to reality: one day in 1954 she heard that
the Picasso painting from the Moscow Museum of Western Art were going
to be flown to Paris for an exhibition and that would be in transit at
the Rome airport for forty-eight hours. She immediately contacted the
URSS embassy and obtained a 48-hour loan of the paintings that was then
extended to one week. The story goes that she and Gaspero slept at the
gallery until the paintings left. For Rome it was an unforgettable
show, the first and only time these works from the blue period were
shown there, and generated one of the most beautiful books on Picasso
ever published in Italy.
While symbolizing glamour, internationality and a
frivolous social life as a public figure, Irene was a private person
and let no one into her life but her husband, her sister Franca and few
close friends. She was a tireless writer: she wrote everywhere (even in
bed, in taxis, and in the bathtub, as Steinberg jokingly portrayed
her), in every language (she was fluent in five languages), and about
almost everything. A recurrent theme in her unsent letters and personal
journals was her regret for all the things she didn't or wouldn't have
a chance to write.
When she learned of her cancer she simply kept
carrying on her life the way she always had: working and travelling. In
the summer of 1968 she and Gaspero decided to take a car trip to
Strasbourg for their usual art viewing. She became very sick and on the
way back they had to stop at their house in Sasso di Bordighera where
she died a week later.
Irene Brin and Gaspero del Corso’s
contribution to opening the way to what today we would call “world
art”, to new media, emerging artists and different value systems
can never be overstated and in the thirty-five years since Irene’s
death has never been fully appreciated. The activity of the archives
seeks to foster academic, institutional and general interest in this
fascinating fragment of art history.
We are creating a complete digital catalogue of
the Obelisco Gallery and Irene Brin Archives and in the process we will add information to this
web-site. This is the reason why some links of these pages are not yet
active. If you need further information please contact
us via e-mail.