By International Tennis Hall Of Fame

From a tennis player’s graceful motions and elegant shot-making to the interesting lines of racquets and courts, tennis has long-served as a muse for a variety of artistic mediums. Recently, the International Tennis Hall of Fame has significantly enhanced the museum’s tennis-inspired art collection through the acquisition of 31 pieces from Hall of Famer Gianni Clerici’s vast and carefully curated personal art collection.

Clerici, a renowned journalist and historian from Italy, chronicled tennis in print and broadcast news for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2006 in recognition of his immense contributions to the sport.

Over the years, Clerici amassed an impressive collection of tennis-inspired art from the 17th century to the 21st century, including paintings, engravings, drawings, sculptures, decorative arts, clothing, and equipment. Clerici’s collection was built with the unique eye of a keen tennis expert and thoughtful art collector, carefully curated with consideration to how the sport is depicted in each piece.

The pieces recently acquired by the Hall of Fame include a selection of paintings, engravings, sculptures, and bronzes.

“I am very happy to see these works, which I love so much, go to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. It seems to me the ideal destination so that they can be appreciated by tennis fans for years to come and be curated and studied within a tennis museum so prestigious,” said Clerici.

Among the acquisition are paintings of early racquet sport players by 17th century European artists, such as a work titled Giovane con Racchetta da Pallacorda (“Young Woman with a Tennis Racquet”) by Michele Desubleo (Flemish, 1602-1676), and watercolors of Roland-Garros and Wimbledon from the early 1900s by Canadian artist Molly Lamb Bobak (1920-2014).

Additionally, there are several abstract depictions of the sport including Manifesto di Federer by American artist Bob Kessel (1954- ), which shows an interpretation of Roger Federer in motion. Also included in the Hall of Fame’s new acquisition are several sculptures of tennis players in motion by Austrian sculptor Franz Hagenauer (1906-1986), a bronze profile bust of Bjorn Börg by French artist Stéphane Monce (1957- ), and a bronze sculpture titled Tennista from 1936 by Ernest Thayaht (Italian, 1893-1959).

Several of the paintings and sculptures acquired from the Clerici collection are now on display in the museum, with plans for additional works to be shown in the future, either in the museum, digitally, or through partnerships with other museums or cultural institutions.

“A focus on tennis-inspired art has long been an interesting facet of the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s museum collection. The pieces we selected from Gianni’s extraordinary collection were chosen with intent to broaden our collection of 20th and 21st century artists as well as to diversify the international artists represented in the collection. The addition of these pieces elevates our art collection to one of the strongest and most diverse in the realm of tennis collections,” commented Museum Director Doug Stark.

Stark added, “Art provides a compelling way to share the stories and impact of tennis history with museum visitors and tennis fans. These pieces and others in our collection showcase the sport’s broad reach to fans across the world, the depth of its history dating back hundreds of years, and the energy and emotion the sport evokes. This acquisition also allows us to broaden our understanding and interpretation of international art and its impact on tennis.”

Prior to the addition of the Clerici collection, the Hall of Fame already utilized a focus on art to help connect museum visitors to the stories of tennis history. Throughout the museum, notable works of art are labeled with special “Artists in the Collection” labels, which highlight the artists’ stories and provide additional information on the piece. This includes, but is not limited to, a 1538 Renaissance painting by Lucas Gassel (Flemish, 1495-ca.1570) depicting tennis being played in a castle courtyard; an original Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) portrait of Hall of Famer Chris Evert; a pen-and-ink drawing by Al Hirschfeld (American, 1903-2003) of the Virginia Slims Legends featuring Tracy Austin, Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Frankie Dürr, Evonne Goolagong, Billie Jean King, Olga Morozova, Martina Navratilova, Betty Stöve, Wendy Turnbull, and Virginia Wade; engravings of Helen Wills by Childe Hassam (American, 1859-1935), a screenprint by Sam Gilliam, Jr. (American, 1933-); a miniature watercolor of Helen Hull Jacobs by Ida Frances Laidman (British, 1877-1962); and more.

Additional information about tennis-related art can be found in Il Tennis Nell’Arte: Racconti di Quadri e Sculture dall’Antichità a Oggi (Tennis In Art: Tales of Paintings and Sculptures from Antiquity to the Present), which Clerici published in 2018, along with colleague and art historian Milena Naldi, and features stories and scholarly information on pieces within his collection.

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