Works from the Venice Biennale

 From the 1907 edition where it participated with its delegation, the Gallery
of Modern Art managed to bring back to Palermo works, which now tell us of the
complex artistic climate of the early 1900s. 

The Collection (1903/1907) by Gaston de La ToucheGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

During those intense years when national displays of works were organised on a regular basis in Rome, Florence, Naples and Palermo, since its first edition in 1895 the Venice Biennale had immediately gained a prominent position as an excellent opportunity to meet international artists and as a test for new trends in European art forms.

The poet's wife (1897) by Lionello BalestrieriGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In 1907, more or less a year after the City had decided to build the new museum, it purchased works such as La moglie del poeta by Balistreri, a painter from Tuscany who had trained in Naples with Morelli and was living in Paris (where his Beethoven had been awarded the golden medal at the Universal Exposition of 1900). The painter was famous for his subjects as they succeeded in conveying the cultural climate of those years: the torment of the artist facing the contradictions of society and the strong influence of music, theatre (he preferred Wagner) and literature.

Night shadows (1907) by Pietro FragiacomoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Alongside Balestrieri, there were two prominent names of the art circles in the Veneto region: Guglielmo Ciardi, with one of his mature works, and Fragiacomo with Ombre notturne where the lagoon environment was evoked, rather than described, with a brushwork which reached the same character and evocative power as the lyrics of a Symbolist poem.

Anguish (1900) by Cesare LaurentiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Ignazio Florio donated the painting Dolore by Cesare Laurenti in 1908, which had been exhibited at the Biennale of 1901, due to presence of a work by Fragiacomo. As a matter of fact, Laurenti was acknowledged as a representative of a ‘painting based on ideas’ and at the same time followed the same anti-realistic Venetian culture. He had also been a teacher of Fragiacomo and had passed on to him the technique he had invented, i.e., a type of tempera painting similar to those of the old Reinassance masters but based on new products, so it was as shiny as the one made with oily colours but it did not turn yellow or deteriorate.

At the Dressing Table (1906) by Camillo InnocentiGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

At the Biennale of 1907, the City Delegation showed it could grasp also the emerging trends among young artists as testified by the purchasing of the belle époque painting Alla toeletta by Camillo Innocenti. He was born in Rome but at the time he was well known among Parisian circles.

Amore e le Parche (1909/1909) by Ettore TitoGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

In 1909, two remarkable Symbolist paintings were purchased. One was Amore e le Parche by Ettore Tito, a painter from the Veneto region at the peak of his fame. He had started with Realism painting and had chosen to find inspiration in mythological themes, which he approached with the fury and modern unrest stemming from the emerging psychoanalysis.

The sin (circa 1909) by Franz Von StruckGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

To stay in tune with the Symbolist atmosphere evoked by Tito’s work, the Delegation also chose the painting Il peccato by Von Stuck, one of the leading figures of the Munich Secession, which had been presented in 1909 in the framework of the solo exhibition the Biennale had dedicated to him. Von Stuck had emerged as a pioneer of allegoric painting ahead of its time with sensual atmospheres and close attention to formal aspects (the artist had also designed the magnificent Doric temple-like frame of the painting). Some of his favourite themes were the conflict between Good and Evil and woman seen as a creature full of mystery and seduction.

The Collection (1903/1907) by Gaston de La ToucheGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Another opening to the international art world happened in 1912 when the painting La collezione by Gaston La Touche was purchased (it had been displayed in Paris in 1908 with the title La vente Lelong) at a solo exhibition of the French artist organised by the Biennale. The flavour of the little oil painting showing an elegant lady wandering among the cases of an auction house was in tune with another purchase of that same year, Il ritratto della signora A.C. by Lino Selvatico.

Portrait of Mrs Guarrasi (1923) by Ettore De Maria BerglerGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

The latter portrayed a refined woman according to the fashion of the time, who was languid, idle but with an intense facial expression reminding of Eleonora Duse. Together with the portraits by Boldini or Selvatico, there is the painting Ritratto della signora Guarrasi by Ettore De Maria Bergler of 1923, which was donated to the museum in 1962 by the will of the very woman portrayed in the painting.

Gloved woman (circa 1901) by Giovanni BoldiniGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Femme aux gants by Boldini, which was presented during a retrospective of the artist organised by the 18th Biennale, is a bust painting of Emiliana Concha de Ossa, a young girl belonging to the Chilean upper-class. The young woman had already been portrayed by the painter in the White Pastel of 1888 and here she is represented through light and bright hues made with elongated and skilled brushwork. Smaller brushstrokes define the face almost to underline the climate of rarefied elegance which had become typical of Boldini’s style and was connected to the less problematic elegance of the belle époque period. The latter was however representative of that contradictory period of European history, which was at the same time sorrowful and splendid.

On the windowsill (1916) by Enrico LionneGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

Another crucial event to broaden the collections was the exhibition ‘Pro Patria Ars’ held in Palermo starting from 1916. It was in line with the taste between symbolism and belle époque and was also open to the trends of the painters of the new generation, such as artists of the Roman Secession.

The model (1915) by Arturo NociGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

They were also interested in the Sicilian origin of Aleardo Terzi who was one of the promoters and founders of the Roman Secession movement, which originated from the rejection of the rules of the bylaws of the ‘Promotrice’ (the society of lovers of the Fine Arts).

Summer morning (1913) by Aleardo TerziGallery of Modern Art "Empedocle Restivo"

From Monreale, Terzi exhibited in Palermo his painting most appreciated by critics called Mattino. In the same years, the Gallery also acquired paintings by Enrico Lionne and Arturo Noci where the divisionism shared by the painters of that group already tend already to fade and make way to richer colours and different emotional tones.

Credits: Story

Coordination by Rosanna Piscione. Texts by Gabriella Sciortino for Civita Sicilia

Credits: All media
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