This beautiful illustration of good size has many salient features of Flemish art, from the 16th century and beyond. Its protagonists are common-folk people, busy carrying out the variously different jobs in life; in this case we see spinners who, with different attitudes, still remain intent on their work. There is undoubtedly a realistic and at the same time grotesque approach to drawing figures in the area of Flanders. In fact, one of the two women seems to take pleasure in our gaze, while the other maintains a severe frown. Their gaunt faces are certainly not beautiful, yet they show a rough charm. Finally, as regards the graphic work, great is the precision of the stroke, which is accomplished in fine lines which better define the scene. In addition, a stand of fruit appears quite incongruously between the two characters and divides them, reminding us that the northern part of Belgium is one of the birthplaces of still life. The general scope of the work can be traced back to the school of Brueghel the Elder, even if the composition as a whole can probably be attributed to the second part of the sixteenth century.
One frowning gentleman
In Northern Italy, and in Bergamo in particular, in the sixteenth century, a portraiture school of great prominence developed, drawing its origins from Moretto realism and developing through a chain of painters from Giovan Battista Moroni to Cavagna. This journey, which runs through the entire second half of the sixteenth century, has the fundamental trait of adhering deeply to the truth of the effigy, which is painted only as it is, without sentimental feelings or bombastic emphasis. This beautiful portrait, for example, shows a gentleman with a slightly sad look, in clothing covered with a fur cape. It can probably be dated to the end of the sixteenth century, or even to the beginning of the seventeenth. Therefore, attributing it to Gian Paolo Cavagna seems convincing, as he lived at the turn of the century and was also known for sacred works.Also, among the second and third generation painters of Bergamo, he is closest to the Venetian school. In the present work, in fact, the artist’s ability to create the brightness of the skin and the slightest details of the eyes, the forehead, the thin hair, the beard and the white collar brings him closer to the luministic sensibility which descends from Titian towards many artists, both average and minor.
The god Mercury
This quick picture is part of a group of four works that all portray ancient deities. The peculiarity of the brushstroke, the thrill of the body, and the fast rendering of details place this painting, which undoubtedly depicts the god Mercurio, with the school of Emilia in the late sixteenth century, and in particular bring us to the personality of Camillo Procaccini, who lived his younger years in Emilia, between Parma, Reggio and Bologna, before later becoming very famous in Milan, the city where the Lombard Vasari was nicknamed. The major part of his opus follows a sacred theme. However, even in his depictions of scenes of the Gospel, he is above all distinguished by his homage to masters such as Raphael, Michelangelo and Parmigianino, then for the great speed, almost a race, which the different characters exhibit, as well as a truly remarkable sense of color . Here we find ourselves before an almost naked Mercury, if it were not for the mantle of a beautiful green. He holds the caduceus, and in the features of his face, that of a shrewd servant, he unequivocally exposes a debt towards the great school of Parma. However, the figure does not lack a monumental nature, as evidenced by his sinewy and tone legs, which seem ready to take off in a moment.
"The young man left together with the angel, and even the dog followed them and went with them. They walked together until he surprised them on the first evening; then they stopped to spend the night on the Tigris river. The young man went down into the river to wash his feet, when a big fish leaping from the water tried to devour the boy's foot, who started screaming. But the angel said to him: "Grab the fish and do not let it escape." The boy managed to catch the fish and pull it to the shore. The angel told him then: - Open the fish and take out the gallbladder, the heart and the liver; put them aside but throw away the intestines. In fact, its gall, heart and liver can be useful for medications. The boy quartered the fish, took away his gallbladder, heart and liver. He roasted a portion of the fish and ate it; the other part, he put it in storage after salting it. Then both resumed the journey, until they were close to Media. " In the Bible, the book of Tobit tells a long journey of this young man, who faces different tests with the help of the Archangel Raphael. One of the episodes is capturing the fish that will then be used to defeat the devil. In this painting of the Nordic school, probably Flemish, the two fundamental characters are relegated to a tiny space at the base of the painting, which unfolds in a triumph of vegetation, reflective water, and large trees. All of this naturally corresponds to the taste of the era: the anonymous artist invites the viewer to discover small details which offer a more complex meaning to a work that at first appears to be only a landscape. Also noteworthy is the cute dog and the other figurs on the right, which give a further rural feel to the whole scene. The artistic touch is meticulous, effective, and almost romantic in representing the expanse of leaves and branches that rise upwards, where large clouds move the sky.
A dramatic crucifixion
Honoré Daumier is one of the noble fathers of nineteenth-century French painting, then of modern art. His superb skills as an illustrator have given us scenes of people and religious scenes, dreamlike views in desolate landscapes, and scratchy, sarcastic human portraits of profound intellectual depth. This work can be traced back to him, both by the writing on the back that attributes to it to him, and for its unprecedented and revolutionary power. The actual crucifixion is drawn almost in the background, exalting the relationship between Christ, the pious women and the other sufferers, the two robbers. Before us stands a fallen and neighing horse, which represents nature abandoned to itself in pain. On the left, the shapes of the soldiers playing cards are outlined by the interweaving of extraordinary shadows. The work is attributable to the later part of the maestro’s life, when he had practically become blind, yet he still possessed the prodigious ability to portray fantastic elements and real allusions. On the other hand, one of the distinguishing features of his genius was how he creates bodies rife with physicality, almost forming them on canvas or paper. His characters, in fact, resemble figures carved with a malleable material with a metal core inside, so that the limbs bend to express meaningful gestures. This is the case in this work, which exalts the drama of the situation and draws new perspectives, expressing the absolute tragedy in silence.
The redhead girl
The Parisian Valadon well represents the prevailing group of painters who, in the second half of the nineteenth century, were the core of the current French art, far from the Impressionists’ innovations, yet creating meaningful works. Jules often attended the Paris Salon and was repeatedly awarded. He was therefore a well-known painter, artist of genre scenes, portraits, and still lifes. He was known for his desire to give his creations a thoughtful, romantic, and almost sad attitude. The painting that we admire here corroborates this style. The young girl, with a bohemian look, seems to meditate under a light that illuminates her from above, revealing all the beauty of her countenance and her hair. At the same time, the eyes open with a melancholy that contrasts with her youthful age. The brushstroke is extremely effective and traces the different details of the garment and the body with agility, vigor and an excellent sense of color. One cannot speak of Impressionism, because the approach remains fundamentally nineteenth century and conformist. This does not prevent Valadon, however, from perfecting a work of great effectiveness and wise sentimental vibration.
Nymphs in the wood
Monticelli is a strange figure of a nineteenth-century painter. Of a humble and shy nature, he spent his life in poverty, although over time his works were appreciated by artists of much greater prominence, such as Cézanne and Van Gogh. In particular, the latter declared that his work was, in fact, a continuation of the art of Monticelli. Why did the Arles visionary give such importance to this almost amateur painter of Marseilles? Probably because Monticelli tried to free his brushstroke from any rigid convention. He loved painting portraits and, more frequently, wooded landscapes in which female figures often appear. In addition, he created a series of works that recall eighteenth-century France, using the touch of an extremely delicate and sensitive brush, without being exactly Impressionist. In the painting we see here, it almost seems as though Adolphe is anticipating Symbolism. Indeed, on one hand he had a connection with the so-called School of Barbizon, which favored the forests around Paris; yet on the other hand, he showed a strange mixture of genius and uneasiness which inevitably led him to more advanced destinations. Here are the bodies of young girls, modern nymphs that stand before a background made of trees not exactly in perspective, nevertheless giving the work as a whole a true, intriguing spirit of inspiration. Also beautiful is the figure of uncertain sex that we find in the foreground.
A veiled mystery
Although sometimes misunderstood, Mancini is the true great painter of the nineteenth century in Italy, at the same level as Fattori and Macchiaioli. A child prodigy, and technically superb, his career knew great success in the context of a life that was progressively deteriorating, due to attacks of a form of nervous pathology difficult to accurately diagnose, probably a serious bipolar disorder. An irregular artist with a genius for color, he was, in a certain sense, still more gifted than Boldini, as Mancini, compared to the Ferrarese master, shows the same ability to outline characters with supreme freedom, using a brushstroke that, closely inspected, seems almost insane. But where Boldini is sharp, Mancini is enveloping. In this work of ambiguous meaning, it is difficult to clarify whether the character portrayed is a girl at a carnival party or a transvestite boy. It is certain, however, that the presence of the mask indicates an emphasis on disguise, just as the veil, magnificently rendered by a sort of black cloud that descends from the head to the middle of the chest, indicates ambiguity as soft as it is penetrating. The game is all in the red and black colors, which on one side indicate the noisy colors of the party, and on the other collapse upon the person portrayed in a sort of progressive disturbance, also making us viewers lose the coordinates of time and place.
Elegant and fleming
Mashkov is one of the exponents of the first phase of Russian avant-garde, gathering under the name of Jack of Diamonds, which was a group of young artists who wanted to radically update pictorial conception in their great nation, inspired by the teachings of Van Gogh and Cézanne,and then further revising and developing themselves through contact with the avant-gardes who were meanwhile developing in France. In this work, the reference to the association we have just mentioned is evident, since the two lamps that give light to the room in which the character is shown are stylized to such an extent that they become two yellow paintings. Mashkov later had an important career, which led him to produce paintings of representational scope, which for their expressiveness and for their intense colors rivalled the most interesting creations of various contemporary European schools. His distinctive style is very effective in describing the elegant man who sits in front of us, a real jack. The reference to the later portraits of Van Gogh is obvious; moreover, this graceful man, dressed in gray which contrasts with the bright red background, represents the segment of bourgeoisie or enlightened nobility that was the core of the artistic innovations of a land traversed by the Revolution in that year .
The real name of Jacques Villon is Gaston Duchamp, which shows he is part in a family of famous artists, including his sister Suzanne, his brother Raymond and his other more famous brother Marcel, a brilliant and transgressive inventor of conceptual art. Instead, Jacques chose to take the avant-garde path in France, remaining in the figurative, creating people and scenes characterized by a sharp scribble, with almost futuristic movements, which gradually become agile characters, who are graceful, nervous, yet pleasant. In this work, created using only shades of green, the painter writes over his own initials a dedication that reads "to Suzanne", perhaps alluding to his sister, or maybe not. Then he continues: "dans mon jardin, in my garden". This explains how the canvas as a whole plays between the face of the young woman and the surrounding vegetation. The green thus dominates every part of the face, while the brush travels through straight lines that then fracture to create a thoughtful countenance. It is an interesting portrait, which probably dates back to the 1910s.
Intellectual, writer, poet, and also a talented painter, Max Jacob was a fundamental figure, both tragic and comic, of the Paris of the avant-garde. A friend of Picasso and Modigliani, who did his portrait several times, spent a tormented life. A brilliant thinker, he was confronted daily with doubts concerning religion and ethics. In the end, in the years of the Second World War, he saw his own family of Jewish origin exterminated by the Nazis and was personally interned in a French concentration camp, where he died of hardship and bronchopneumonia. His drawings, usually quick sketches, show irony and fun. On the contrary, his paintings, although quite rare, reveal a complex artist who followed from afar the dictates of Cubism and Futurism, always maintaining a strong figurative character. In this work, in particular, Jacob uses an touch embracing Vuillard, composing a magnificent portrait of a lady, with great taste and sensitivity to color. Her face, with its decisive features, stands out in front of a green, floral tapestry, as in Van Gogh's paintings. Moving lines of color give the pastel a swirling harmony that makes it impressive in an immediate manner.
Painter and palette
The OK initials and the style of the portrayed character probably indicate that this work is the result of the genius of Oskar Kokoschka, one of the founders of Middle-European expressionism, who spanned the twentieth century with unrestrained virtuosity, thanks to his immense talent. Starting from the works of the first period, distinguished by a harsh style and by a desire to represent the world in an immediate and grotesque way, he later arrived at a more mature, meditated approach, which makes color and vibrant brushstroke the strengths of a sincere and powerful art. In the painting we admire here, we discover an elegant man with similar features to those of the artist. He shows his palette while behind him is a painting or a poster that reveals a jockey and a horse, under the inscription "Hippodrome". Notice especially the beautiful hand, which caresses the brush, which in turn touches the palette. One of Kokoschka's fundamental qualities is indeed his ability to render the subjects three-dimensional, giving to bodies and things the physicality and weight they need to be credible and realistic.
The hungarian landscape
The painting does not bear any apparent signature. However, on the back of the frame there is an ascription to Joszef Nemes-Lampérth, a Hungarian painter with a short and troubled life, quite unknown in Western Europe and yet a figure of great importance for the Hungarian avant-garde. His creations oscillate between references to the painting of Cezanne (or more in general to Fauve painting) and precise references to the then-nascent Expressionism. There are two fundamental groups of his works: first of all the graphic work, characterized by studies of the figure and a very decisive feature that leads to an intense expression of human corporeality; secondly, landscape studies in which the hills, the leaves, and the houses are determined by the juxtaposition of differently colored areas favoring shades between green and violet. In fact, in this delicate painting with a truly exquisite touch, the houses of a city seem to emerge like ghosts from the green of the bush, and at the same time they converge with the trees in a series of overlapping walls that move the viewer’s gaze upwards. The very short existence of this brilliant artist has unfortunately prevented his complete evolution, but the few surviving works are enough to identify him as an important counterpart to the new movements that developed in Germany and France, where he also spent time.
Pechstein is one of the leaders of German Expressionism. In particular, he is an representative of the Die Brücke group, or "The Bridge", which includes other celebrated masters such as Kirchner and Heckel. It was this group who, while still young, created a fundamental stylistic break that, incorporating the works of Van Gogh and Gauguin, first introduced a new expressionist way of conceiving art in Germany and then in Europe: painting with strong tones, which in part refer to African and oceanic suggestions, exhibiting provocative nudes and figures that were appear roughly sketched, but are in reality very intense. Pechstein was the only one of the group with a true scholastic education. He specialized above all in scenes of young women with African or Asian traits, often immersed in large, resplendent, colorful landscapes. This work shows us a half-naked girl with a dry and attractive body, portrayed in a reddish interior. The artist's brush embellishes some details with green and blue highlights. Thus appears a character with spontaneous sensuality, halfway between the Polynesians of Gauguin and a female protagonist of modern Germany. Needless to say, Pechstein and his friends were ensnared in the great bonfire of the arts ordered by Hitler, who led this nefarious mission with which he intended to destroy so-called degenerate art.
A fairly massive man appears to us from the waist up, wearing a jacket, a green sweater, a white shirt, and a red tie. His attitude is thoughtful, as if in melancholy reflection. Around his body, writing appears, above and below, and sketched with great license in black or dark brown brushstrokes. The letters S E R can be seen above the tangle of his hair. Always above, but on the right, the letters I O can be glimpsed with greater difficulty. This is very probably the word “serio,” or “serious,” which, rather than defining the mysterious identity of the character, serves to emphasize his mood. At the bottom right we find a big pointed A; on the left, a C or a G also pointed, even though it is difficult to understand what it actually is, because the lettering is confused with the elements of the jacket. Evidently, the artist is Italian. Evaluating the style, he is an Italian artist of the first half of the twentieth century who works with magnificent grace, suggesting with few touches the physiognomy of the enigmatic youth and hinting at his character. This type of approach appears close to Fauve painters, both for its expressive strength and for the apt use of the ever-changing colors. Unfortunately it is difficult to say if the two initials at the bottom correspond to the artist, or if they are useful in identifying the soul that hides behind the slightly inclined face. We just have to admire his almost oriental eyes, lost in the void and yet beautiful.
The overpowering imagination of Filippo Tibertelli, who assumed the surname of de Pisis to claim presumed noble ancestry, is fully shown in this work, which portrays the enchanting Venetian town of Asolo. De Pisis is a fundamental figure of Italian art in the twentieth century. In a very perceptive way, he assimulates the lessons of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists, in particular those of Manet and Utrillo. He then reworks them in his Parisian years, establishing his absolutely distinctive mark. His creations are characterized by a very agile and nervous writing, and by a sense of spectacular color. Here he represents a lively, provincial day, sketching many different episodes: the flowered and watered balconies, the coming and going of the inhabitants, the couple that brings the child on a walk, the young, muscular cyclist as he pauses. The silhouettes of the porticoes and the houses rest under the sky, stained with blue and gray, crossed by the swallows that he so loved. The composition is imbued with musicality, which the quick touch suggests, but at the same time hides. The desire to use the black as a fundamental color gives the painting a solid structure that draws its distant origins from the great Venetian painting, and which nevertheless appears very topical in representing the instability and fleetingness of the world, its subdued and elegant rustling.
Virgilio Guidi’s existential and artistic journey between Rome and Venice was a sign of great rigor, and an attempt to continuously refine the technique that allowed him to capture the rarefied atmospheres around a portrait or around a view. Initially close to the Roman school, Guidi approached the painting of Henri Matisse as a young man, pursuing some stylistic traits that united him to the French master. His art became more and more simple with time, finally composing an intense series of works, for example the famous islands of San Giorgio or the many iconic faces of women, in which small chromatic differences produce radically different outcomes in expression. The picture we see here probably belongs to an intermediate period. But already, in the division between shadow and light in the face, we note Guidi’s tendency to seek an expressive figure that allows both sensorial vibration as well as a brilliant representational rendering of a person. In this case the alternation of colors is beautiful: the pink that pervades the face and the garment is combined with the sudden accentuation of the lips and eyebrows. Everything diverts itself in a small space, in the intimate display of a lady who waits indefinitely for something, and who reveals her own grace.
Face in the clearness
Although born in the capital of Argentina, the painter draws his origins from a noble family of Spilimbergo, or the homonymous town in Friuli where he later returned and where he died. This artist is one of the fundamental representatives of the so-called Chiarista trend, which developed between Milan and Upper Mantua in the period between the two world wars. As the name explains, it is a group of arists who prefer light colors, if not white itself, and a unrestrained treatment of the subjects, following the taste of the most up-to-date trends beyond the Alps, and in particular the teachings of Henri Matisse. Spilimbergo is a sincere painter, capable of excellently constructing his themes; he was very interested in landscapes, sometimes snow-covered, sometimes embellished with the features of a ethereal Venice, but he was also inclined towards portraiture. For example, this work shows a young lady with a slightly brazen look, watching us in her generous décolletage. As you can see, the shades of the canvas go from pink to blue, then darkening in her brown hair and almost provocative red lips. He was an interesting artist, who led a fairly modest life, yet was nonetheless certain of his genius and capability of bringing together artisanal refinement and a great scope of talent.
The Danish Jorn is an member of the Cobra group, which is a contemporary post-expressionist art group that takes its name from the three European capitals: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. Its basic characteristics are a free creation of fantastical figures and a contrast between strong colors. Jorn lived the last part of his life in Italy, working until his death in Albissola, the Ligurian capital of ceramics. The work that we present here is evidently based on one of Velazquez's early masterpieces, the so-called Triumph of Bacchus, or the Drinkers. In fact, the man with a grotesque grimace is portrayed here in this picture divided into areas of contrasting colors modernizes the character at the center of the Spanish painting, who smiles at us, clearly drunk. It is an interesting painting, which reveals how much the artist wanted to transmit an expressive dynamism through his creations, interpreting the history of painting and its fundamental moments of development.
Marcel Janco, born Hermann Iancu, was an integral part of the generation of brilliant arists who founded the so-called Dada movement. In particular, he collaborated with Arp and Tzara at the launch of Cabaret Voltaire, the Zurich tavern in which provocative objects and extravagant paintings were exposed in 1916, so as to upset the traditional art scene once and for all and create the most innovation among the avant-gardes. He then continued his adventure as a refined intellectual, entering the great bedrock of European Surrealism. Then, the persecutions against the Jews forced him to flee from Europe, now become a terrible stepmother, and take refuge in Israel, where he lived for the rest of his life. His subsequent work, as well as the work we admire here, should be seen in the vast category of international Surrealism. In particular, this piece brings him closer to the art of Max Ernst. In fact, both of them have a similar ability to produce a dreamlike world in which fantasy has absolute domain, and without which free will would govern the paintbrush. On the contrary, this universe conveys very deep notions inherent in the human being, powerful archetypes that still dwell in our minds, and above all, freedom of invention that is often impeded in the modern citizen.
Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by: Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova) con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova) Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator: Sebastiano Sali Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images: Giovanni Pasetti Foto di / Photo by: Art Camera Redazione / Editor: Erica Beccalossi Assistente / Assistant: Fabrizio Foresio