Undoubtedly, the major protagonist of the first half of the twentieth century was the sculptor Antonio Sciortino (1879-1947), a portrait of whom we have featured on this article.
Sciortino was a director of the the British Academy of Arts in Rome between 1911 and 1936. In 1937, he became curator of Fine Arts at the National Museum in Malta. He bequeathed a large number of his works that are in the national collection.
One of his students in Italy was Vincent Apap (1909-2003). After Sciortino, Apap became one of Malta’s foremost sculptors. He worked in an academic manner that did not always embrace the modern idiom. One of his best known works is the Triton Fountain in Valletta.
Vincent Apap’s brother was the painter Willie Apap (1918-1970), who spent most of his artistic career in Rome. Willie Apap is best known for his portraits, and like a number of other notable artists, had started his artistic studies under Edward Caruana Dingli (1876-1950).
Caruana Dingli was a director of the Malta Government School of Art between 1919 and 1947, and is mostly known for his portraits and landscapes, often featuring local folkloristic themes, always with a strong sense of naturalism.
A number of other students of Caruana Dingli eventually emerged to become prominent Maltese artists:
Giuseppe Briffa (1901-1987), one of the leading church artists who worked in a diluted, modern, yet strongly academic manner;
Carmelo Mangion (1905-1997), an artist whose landscapes and figurative works were the first to truly engage with the expressionist idiom in Maltese art;
Giorgio Preca (1909-1984), who alternated his career between Malta and Rome;
Anton Inglott (1915-1945), whose most significant work is the spiritually intense death of St Joseph in the Msida Parish Church;
Emvin Cremona (1919-1987), who had a dual artistic personality, ranging from monumental church commissions to the strikingly engaging abstraction of his broken glass series;
Esprit Barthet (1919-1999), a prolific artist, most popular for his abstracted rooftops;
Frank Portelli (1922-2004), best known for his contours series;
Lastly, Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005), undoubtedly the greatest protagonist of the second half of the twentieth century, who after pursuing his studies in Paris and the UK, was amongst the first to immerse himself in the modern idiom.
Camilleri's large output was characterised by an highly individualised and expressive style that often included a repetitive self representation.
Other sculptors who have definitely impacted Modern Art in Malta are Josef Kalleja (1898-1998) with his intensely spiritual sculptures, Gabriel Caruana (1929-2018) with his experimentations and ceramics, and to a more limited extent Toni Pace (1930-1989), who had a brief but forceful phase of experimentation with three dimensional work in metal in the 1960s.
The sixties also attracted a number of British artists, authors and intellectuals to move to Malta. Amongst them, the major artistic personality was Victor Pasmore (1908-1998).
Passmore's presence further stimulated the artistic development of local artists such as Gabriel Caruana, abstract artist Alfred Chircop (1933-2015), and architect and artist Richard England (b.1937).
Harry Alden (1929-2019) introduced the hard edge technique in the 1960s. His contact with Bridget Riley nurtured his interest in Op Art.
The late twentieth century saw more artists engaging with conceptual art and with creative experimentation that was new to Malta. In this regard, the work of Caeser Attard (b.1946) has left a mark on Contemporary Art in Malta, and should definitely be highlighted.
Isabelle Borg (1959-2010), with her highly expressive work, engaged with the landscape and themes of clearly feminist intent.
Pawl Carbonaro (b.1948) is best known for his confident thick brushstrokes in his abstractions within the landscape.
The diversity of artistic expression in twentieth century art in Malta makes it a fascinating subject for study.