I have been living now in Villa Singer for almost twenty-five years and I feel honoured by the fact that I was born in a family that was just a little over the top when it decided that this place, even though it was in the suburbs of Milan, would be so ideal for me to develop my passion and love for art that has distinguished my life so far.
My great-grandfather, Arturo Monti, decided at forty-nine years of age, to leave his work at the Cooperativa Farmaceutica Milanese so he could indulge his passion for the music and for the art of his time. He was searching, above all, for a place that would be most suited for his only daughter who was an artist and who wished to paint en plein air.
My grandmother was not able to attend the Brera Art Academy, considered at that time to be an inconvenient temple of study for a young woman from a “good” family. She therefore became the favourite pupil of the painter, Attilio Andreoli, a renowned portrait painter and follower of the late Scapigliatura art movement in the north of Italy. Signor Andreoli was a favourite painter, too, of upper-class Milanese families of the time.
In 1934, my great grandfather purchased this old house which, at the very beginning of the Twentieth century, had been built by an eccentric Austrian gentleman, Herr Karl Singer, as a home and workshop where he would be able to distil perfumes and essences.
Some observers still remember barges docking on the Martesana canal in order to unload crates of essences and dried roots, all ready to be treated and become exquisite fragrances or aromas for his distilled spirits.
Over the years, the house had become the meeting-place for the painter friends of my great grandfather (signori Palanti, Tallone and Alciati) and my grandmother immortalised the few neighbours of the house in a sequence of portraits that were a little haughty and old-fashioned: her models never received the original portrait since it was immediately sent to my great grandfather’s art gallery – small boxes that were offered in thanks for such long sittings. In several pictures the garden was often depicted; looking after the garden was a fundamental element for the family’s aesthetic sense and sensibility. The trees that bore fruit were well-pruned and readily remind us of the countryside in Lombardy. The quest for exotic plants with palms, copses of bamboo and yucca plants are reflections upon an ideal Eden that my great grandmother, Maria Teresa, sought to recreate by planting flowers that would blossom in every month of the year.
This bucolic idyllic – as well as being a slightly hidden idyll, far from a city that was changing and expanding - was devastated by the Second World War. During the bombing of the 20th October 1944 the elementary school in front of the house was annihilated and since then Gorla and the square in the middle of the neighbourhood records for all of those people residing in Milan the death of two hundred children (Piccoli Martiri – “The Little Martyrs”) who lost their lives on their way to school.
The house was battered and beaten but my great grandparents continued to gather the grapes from the pergola and listen to music from the old gramophone until one fine day when a “wise” administrator of the building convinced them to go and live in a new building with a lift that was “both attractive and modern”.
When I arrived here I was young, with just a penny or two in my pockets, yet already dealing in antiques. This old and venerable house seduced me entirely despite the fact that it had been humiliated by unpleasant interventions and vulgar restoration. It still possessed, of course, that marvellous garden that had been transformed into a football pitch. Slowly slowly over these last few years the house has come back to being the centre of our family’s affections and in the garden there is a fruit tree for each and every new arrival in the family. I have striven to reconstruct the atmosphere of a timeless sort of place in the house and I have used a whole host of original materials for its restoration. I have also added many of my own passions to the furnishing of the rooms.
All around me the landscape has changed and the little neighbourhood of Gorla is now only a tiny portion of Milan’s north-eastern suburbs. Nevertheless, the water that flows in the Martesana canal and the bicycle lane alongside it have brought an ever-increasing amount of people to the area – especially visitors who flock to the waterway at the weekends. I am happy that I have safeguarded this house with its garden which, although it is not open to the public, may be rented at times for photo shoots, videos and small-sized events.