Catalouge: The Lace Makers by Antoine Camilleri

Fig.1 two-women-gold


Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005)
The Lace Makers
Date Unknown
Lino Print
Artist’s Proof


The Lace Makers by Antoine Camilleri was recently purchased from an auction at Obelisk Auction House, Attard in 2018.[1]

We know that the lino print formed part of a local art collection prior to its purchase. A reliable source working at the auction house said that this particular artwork was originally given to an anonymous friend of the artist in lieu of rental fees. The friend offered his place in Gozo rent-free during a period when Antoine Camillieri was strapped for cash; as a thank you, Camilleri left this work in his apartment. The family of the original owner consigned this work to auction.

Report Summary

The Lace Makers, is one of a series of lino prints exploring trades and crafts in Malta by artist Antoine Camillieri (1922-2005) which also happens to focus the light on Maltese women (fig. 1). In this artwork one can witness two women in front of a typical rubble wall; one is looking at the other crafting traditional Maltese Lace (Bizzilla). The work was produced after a monochrome photograph of the two women and perfectly captures Camilleri’s intelligent compositional eye. It also highlights the importance of simplified linear design which he favoured in his work. The work’s condition requires attention and reframing is highly encouraged.

Fig.1 two-women-gold

Figure 1 Antoine Camilleri, The Lace Makers, Undated, Lino Print


The Lace Makers by Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005) represents two old women, one of whom is shown making traditional Maltese Lace (Bizzilla) (fig. 1). The woman on the right rests the lace pillow on a chair, while the woman on the left holds a plate. They are seated in front of a traditional Maltese rubble wall, known as ħajt tas-sejjieħ. The work was produced after a monochrome photograph of the two women which is not uncommon for Camilleri’s work (fig. 2).[2]  While Camilleri preferred to draw from live models, he often used photos as a source of inspiration or a frame of reference.[3] Camilleri adapted the photograph for the lino printing medium by distilling the most important lines and features of the women which aim to capture the mood of the photo.

Fig.2 two-women-real-bw

Figure 2 Original black and white image of the lace makers, used as a source of inspiration for Antoine Camilleri

Camilleri constantly repeated themes, compositions in various media and revisited past work thereby engaging in a transformative process with each repetition.[4] The printing process is in itself a repetitive one. Artists often produce editions of the same work including Camilleri who often replicated his prints. However, he did not stop there, The Lace Makers was reinterpreted in Camilleri’s unique clay and resin technique (fig. 3). The artist made only slight compositional changes to fit the new medium however, the subject matter, the general mood and the women’s expressions remain the same. He is involved in two transformative actions, first from photograph to lino print then from photograph to clay, each time making subtle changes to suit the medium.

Fig.3 two-women-clay

Figure 3 Antoine Camilleri, The Lace Makers, Undated, Clay and Resin on Wooden Board, 49 x 55cm

The repetitive nature of prints usually requires artists to adhere to a numbering sequence to justify their originality. However, Camilleri rarely followed a strict numbering sequence in the production of his prints. Rather during the height of his lino printing production, in the 1970s, the artist experimented with the technique rendering each print slightly different to the one that came before.[5] He was fond of experimentation, once saying

‘To succeed in painting, one must always experiment and create new methods and designs it is useless to always dig in the same pit.’[6]

One might say Camillieri was constantly searching to ‘create new methods’, dutifully refining his own artistic voice and looking for freedom within an established technical boundary.  He is searching for freedom within an established technical boundary. A study of Camilleri’s entire oeuvre of lino prints will immediately expose their ‘imperfect’ quality. He experimented with the application of the ink on the lino board, at times using a paint brush or a sponge, the result of which produced irregular streak marks in the final product.[7] Teaspoons too featured as part of his studio paraphernalia; once again he would transfer the ink to the paper, paying little attention to creating a ‘perfect’ end-product.[8] Perhaps best exemplified in Lost in Thought, where the ink would have been applied with a paint brush (fig. 4). He pushed the technique even further with his experimentation using putty as seen in Self-Portrait, where he pressed the putty into the lino board to create a bas-relief mould of his effigy (fig. 5). A comparison of the lino print and clay work reveal that the two were produced from the same board (fig. 6). Ultimately each edition produced by Camilleri would have been different, limiting the need to adhere to a numbering sequence.[9] He would also layer colours on the same page using the same lino board, which is rather unconventional in the lino printing technique (fig. 6).

Fig.4 Antoine Camilleri Lost-in-thought
Fig.6 Antoine Camilleri, Self Portrait

Figure 6 Antoine Camilleri, Self Portrait, Undated, Lino Print

Line is a prominent feature in Camilleri’s work, a feature which can be traced back to his early artistic training. Between 1936 and 1945, he attended the Government School of Art in Valletta with Edward Caruana Dingli (1876-1950) who laid the groundwork for Camilleri’s emphasis on draughtsmanship. Caruana Dingli’s teaching style was very traditional and expected students to produce realistic representations of his sitters often scolding students who practiced in a modern idiom. Camilleri’s preference for economy of line was developed during his sojourn in Paris at the École Superieure des Beaux Arts where he studied under the guidance of Prof. Nicolas Unterstellar (1990-1967). Unterstellar was a stained-glass expert, a medium which requires the artist to distil the core features of his subject and likely informed Camilleri’s preference to this minimalist approach. Additionally, Unterstellar’s attitude to teaching allowed room for experimentation for the artist. It is in Paris where Camilleri first experienced a sense of artistic freedom which allowed him to find his own voice. His love of line is translated perfectly in his lino prints. The immediately noticeable simplicity and economy of line is employed in The Lace Makers, he gives the composition a dramatic and remarkable graphic quality only achievable by those adept in the technique of lino printing (fig. 1). Also noteworthy is his precision and intelligence with which he cut the lino board in order to create positive and negative spaces within the composition.

The importance of Camilleri’s work in the development of Maltese modern art is clear from his presence at the recently re-opened National Museum of Fine Arts, MUŻA, Valletta. Camilleri has also been the subject of numerous exhibitions most notably the 1999 Bank of Valletta retrospective and the 2015 exhibition titled Celebrating Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005), held at Spazju Kreattiv, St. James Cavalier in Valletta.[10] Although his work was not universally accepted in Malta during his lifetime, he was selected to represent Malta for the island’s premier participation in the Venice Biennale, 1958.[11]

There are numerous publications about the artist, including a monograph titled Antoine Camilleri: His Life and Work published in 2006 by Joseph Paul Cassar.[12] There is an article dedicated to the artist in the important 1991 the anthology of essays titled Malta: Six Modern Artists. Finally, Camilleri is prominently featured in Joseph Paul Cassar’s, 2010 book Pioneers of Modern Art Vol. 1 which outlines the artists who shaped the twentieth century in Malta.[13]


Figure 7 Damage on, Antoine Camilleri, The Lace Makers, Undated, Lino Print

Condition and Artemisia’s Recommendations

The current degree of damage to this artwork can be best described as slight to moderate. The paper displays no signs of foxing or mildew however, it appears to be perceptibly fragile to the point of breaking and tearing; this damage is located on the periphery of the artwork (fig. 7). The damage does not obstruct the subject in question or the viewing pleasure of the artwork. It is unclear as to what has caused the paper to react this way however, we suggest upgrading the current glass frame to prevent any sort of contact with the paper. Some dirt is also visible under the glass frame particularly close to the clamped edges of the work. Whilst the print does not seem to be at serious risk of further damage in the short-term, we still recommend it be monitored or corrected by a professional conservator.

Artemisia always recommends minimal intervention and always advocates reversible, professional methods of restoration. In this case we strongly recommend preventative measures as part of proper conservation where possible. Additionally, we advise for the print to be exhibited inside a controlled environment which receives minimal sunlight and cleaned infrequently. Cleaning should only be carried out gently with a dry feather duster.


[1] The work was purchased on 10th April 2018, listed as Lot No. 442.

[2] The photo is thought to have been taken by the artist himself. Cassar, Joseph Paul 2006 Antoine Camilleri: His Life and Works Malta: Publikazzjojonijiet Indipendenza, 74.

[3] His preference to draw from live models can be noted from the plethora of ‘Artist and Model’ self-portraits found in his oeuvre. An entire chapter is dedicated to these works in Joseph Paul Cassar’s 2006 monograph about the artist. Cassar, 2006.

[4] Fsadni, Maria Eileen 2017 Repetitive Self-Representation: Originality in the Work of Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005) M.A. Dissertation, University of Malta, 22.

[5] Cassar, 2006.

[6] Anon, 1968 ‘One-man exhibition at National Museum’ Times of Malta 23 February 1968; 4.

[7] Borg, Lino 2015 Public Lecture, ‘Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005): His Linoleum-Prints and Related Works’.

[8] Cassar, 2006, 67.

[9] Close friends and collaborators of the artist, including Joseph Paul Cassar, Lino Borg and Jesmond Vella, have been known to reprint his work for archival purposes. These works are commented on in Joseph Paul Cassar’s book about the artist. Cassar, 2006; 67.

[10] A catalogue of works was published in conjunction with the 1999 exhibition: Fiorentino, Emmanuel ed., 1999 Bank of Valletta Art Exhibitions: Antoine Camilleri – Frank Portelli Malta: Bank of Valletta plc.

[11] In a 1992 interview Camilleri revealed that, ‘since we were modern and studied abroad, we were unfairly considered to be revolutionary.’ Referring to other artists who practiced in a modern idiom and were often excluded from gaining commissions. Aquilina, J. 1992 ‘Meeting People’ Sunday Times of Malta 15 November 1992, 30.

[12] Cassar, 2006.

[13] Cassar, Joseph Paul 2010 Pioneers of Modern Art Vol. 1 Malta: Publikazzjojonijiet Indipendenza.

FigureDescription & Reference
Fig.1.2.George Blandford, Marquis of, The Old Manor House of Woodstock, c. 18th century, watercolour and chalk on paper, 26 x 34.4 cm, Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford (Bridgeman Images).
Fig.1.3.Claude Lorrain, Paysage pastoral, 1644, oil on canvas, 98 x137 cm, Musée de Grenoble, Lille (no accession no.) (image sourced from the public domain)

Anon, 1968 ‘One-man exhibition at National Museum’ Times of Malta 23 February 1968, 4

Aquilina, J. 1992 ‘Meeting People’ Sunday Times of Malta 15 November 1992, 30

Borg, Lino 2015 Public Lecture, ‘Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005): His Linoleum-Prints and Related Works’.

Cassar, Joseph Paul 2006 Antoine Camilleri: His Life and Works Malta: Publikazzjojonijiet Indipendenza

Cassar, Joseph Paul 2010 Pioneers of Modern Art Vol. 1 Malta: Publikazzjojonijiet Indipendenza

Fiorentino, Emmanuel ed., 1999 Bank of Valletta Art Exhibitions: Antoine Camilleri – Frank Portelli Malta: Bank of Valletta plc.

Fsadni, Maria Eileen 2017 Repetitive Self-Representation: Originality in the Work of Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005) M.A. Dissertation, University of Malta

Fiorentino, Emmanuel 1991 ‘Antoine Camilleri (1922-)’ in Malta: Six Modern Artists Fenech, Victor ed. Malta: Gutenberg Press, 125-149

Murray, Peter, Murray, Linda 1997 Dictionary of Art and Artists 7th edn. England: Penguin

Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005): was a Maltese artist and he is considered to be one of the foremost pioneers of modern art in Malta. His early training was carried out with Dwardu Zammit before he attended the Malta Government School of Arts in Valletta, under the tutorship of Edward Caruana Dingli. Between 1948-1950 he attended the École Superieure des Beaux Arts, in Paris where he studied under Prof. Nicolas Unterstellar a stained-glass expert. He is best known for his repetitive self-representation, representation of the female figure as well as his depiction of Maltese culture and heritage. Camilleri experimented a lot with various media and developed a unique technique which used local clay that was encased in resin. The artist also produced lino prints, oil paintings and affixed found objects to his work using resin.

Bas-Relief: sculpture is that which is not free-standing. There are several names to indicate the varying depth of projection ranging from alto-relievo, or high-relief – which is almost detached from the ground – through mezzo-relievo (‘high-relief’) to bas-relief (basso-relievo) and further still to relieve stiacciato (or schiacciato) which is scarcely more than scratched.

Composition: is the placement or arrangement of visual elements in a work of art, particularly a painting. 

Controlled Environment: is a space that buffers external environs, temperature fluctuations. Artworks in a controlled environment should be exhibited in stable humidity and temperatures and kept away from direct sunlight and high intensity lighting.

Edward Caruana Dingli (1876-1950): was a twentieth-century Maltese artist best known for his portraits of the upper echelons of society and nostalgic genre scenes of everyday life in Malta. He studied under the tutelage of Giuseppe Calì (1846-1930), one of Malta’s foremost 19th century artists. Caruana Dingli was also an art educator serving as the Head of the Government School of Art in Valletta, tutoring some of Malta’s most prominent artists including Antoine Camilleri, Esprit Barthet and Emvin Cremona among others.

Hajt tas-sejjieħ: is a traditional Maltese rubble wall built without the use of concrete to hold the wall together. These walls, always built using globigerina limestone, still characterise the Maltese country side today.

Lino Print: also known as ‘Linocut’ is a printmaking technique. Originally, a variant of woodcut in which a sheet of linoleum is used as a relief surface. A design is cut into the linoleum surface with a sharp knife, V-shaped chisel or gouge, with the raised (uncarved) areas representing a reversal (mirror image) of the parts to show printed. Ink is applied to the linoleum sheet with a roller (called a brayer), and then impressed onto paper or fabric. The actual printing can be done by hand or with a printing press.

Maltese Lace (Bizzilla): is a form of Bobbin lace, a lace textile made by braiding and twisting lengths of thread, which are wound on bobbins to manage them. As the work progresses, the weaving is held in place with pins set in a lace pillow, the placement of the pins usually determined by a pattern or pricking pinned on the pillow.

Nicolas Unterstellar (1890-1967): was a French artist and stained-glass expert in the twentieth century. Unterstellar was an art teacher at the École Superieure des Beaux Arts in Paris where he tutored Maltese twentieth-century artist Antoine Camilleri (1922-2005).