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  • Writer's pictureRomina Rosso

Boldini De Nittis et Les Italiens de Paris

Updated: Apr 6

Giovanni Boldini, Place Clichy, 1874, detail, Enrico Gallerie dell'Arte, Milan

Novara, The Visconti-Sforza Castle, 4 November 2023 - 7 April 2024

At the castle of Novara is exhibited the beauty of the Belle Époque in Paris and the impact it had on Italian artists.

Paris, at the beginning of the 20th century, was considered the most fascinating city in the world with an elegant, exuberant and romantic spirit.

Fashionable city that attracted the most important artists, writers and thinkers of the time and where many art and cultural movements were invented.

Artists were attracted to Paris because it was the main cultural centre of the century: on one hand, they are eager to confront with French and the international figurative style and on the other to expand their market across borders with important public and private commissions.

One of the first to choose France as the country of choice was Giuseppe Canella (1788-1847), and among the very first to immerse himself in painting from life in the dense forest of Fontainebleau and to propose their works at the Salon of 1827.

Four of the eight paintings exhibited on that occasion were purchased by Duke Louis Philippe of Orleans, the future sovereign, and are now in the collections of the Musée Carnavalet.

A few years later, just to name a few, it will be the turn of Gabriele Smargiassi (1798-1882), of Consalvo Carelli (1818-1900), considered the most “à la page” landscape painter of the aristocracy of the kingdom of the King Louis Philippe, and Giuseppe Palizzi (1812-1888).

Palizzi will establish himself as one of the greatest animal’s painters, in 1859 he will be awarded with the prestigious Legion of Honour and throughout the sixties will be the point of reference for many of the Italian artists who will arrive in Paris.

With the birth of the first Universal Expositions, cities such as London (Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations, 1851) and Paris (Exposition universelle des its produde l'agriculture, de l'industrie et des beaux-arts, 1855) attracted millions of visitors from all over Europe and become the nerve centre of the international contemporary art market.

Taking part in the Salon or in the more complex Universal Expositions gave great prestige to artists who won medals or prizes to exhibit proudly, as a form of self-promotion and gained them an extraordinary visibility with impressive audiences for the era.

For this reason, in this period were born in Paris the first contemporary art merchants who offered a regular and guaranteed pay, and counted on the artists and their personalities by offering exclusivity and ensuring the financial need that young painters and sculptors needed.

The first room is an intense and stimulating confrontation of a group of Italian painters who fled to Paris to pursue an artistic dream and conquer the international market.

In Paris all these young artists must quickly adapt to the taste of the middle class collecting a varied taste in a vital but ruthless market where it was essential to adapt their supply to the clients’ demand.

In those years the Catalan painter Fortuny, loved by collectors for that seductive costume painting designed and brought to success by Meissonier, was the raising star artist.

These small genre scenes full of details set in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were sold in staggering figures. In the exhibition we can see Mosè Bianchi, who after his stay in Paris, engaged with this style in the Les enfants de choeur painted for the French market and entrusted to his merchant Goupil.

In the same genre also falls Giovanni Boldini especially to please his American collectors and will bring him closer to the merchant Goupil so you can admire the funny Vecchia Canzone (Old Song) and Due signore con pappagallo (Teasing the parrot).

Mosè Bianchi, Les enfants de choeur, 1870 Enrico Gallerie d'Arte, Milan
Giovanni Boldini, Teasing the parrot, ca. 1873, Gallerie Maspes, Milan

Another valued genre was orientalism linked to the world of Islam, Palestine and the Far East.

Artists as Alberto Pasini have travelled and really have seen what they represent, having been to Persia Egypt, Armenia, Palestine, Turkey and Lebanon.

Alberto Pasini, Un marché à Constantinople, 1874, Private collection

His Orient is not created from literary suggestions but he lived in first person the places. Here on display in Marchè á Constantinople (Constantinople market) Pasini gives us a vivid and real insight into those places in which it deceives us to perceive the sounds and scents of the middle East.

The East evoked as a fantasy is that of the Neapolitan artist Edoardo Tofano with his beautiful Walk on the Bosphorus depicting this very refined veiled woman or the Far East by Eleuterio Pagliano with Japanese inspired by Japanese prints, very popular in that period.

At the same time shows great admiration for Japanese art, such as in the kimono decorated with herons and peach flowers and floral graphism of the background wall dotted with yellow to recall the technique of "scattered gold".

Edoardo Tofano, Walk on the Bosphorus, ca 1879, Private collection
Eleuterio Pagliano, Japanese, 1874, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan

Domenico Morelli, who was also fascinated by the East, unlike Pasini, did not visit it but studied in depth the Gospels, the Qur'an, Mahomet and His Successors by Washington Irving, the Life of Jesus by Ernest Renan and the new visual medium: photography.

In the Maddalena (Magdalene) a masterpiece of the investigation on the Christological theme and a mystical vision of the East, you can see the characters not posing and the protagonists on the sidelines: on the right the Magdalene in white dress and on the doorstep Christ in red clothes.

Domenico Morelli, The Magdalene,1875, Enrico Gallerie d'Arte, Milan

Another genre much loved by European but especially Americans collectors is the Italian folklore style of Central and Southern Italy considered a fascinating world like the East one.

A great exponent of this styles was the young painter from Abruzzo Francesco Paolo Michetti, who painted large paintings with a freshness and a truth of colour admirable and brilliant.

In the Procession of Corpus Christi in Chieti, a masterpiece of his time, as it has been defined: "a feast for the eyes". The procession theme of the picture is perceived barely suffocated by colours and with each figure narrating an action or shown independently in the picture: from the mother with the child, the stoker, the nuns, the popular band, the naked children of the procession.

Francesco Paolo Michetti, Procession of Corpus Christi in Chieti, 1877, Galleria Beatrice, Palermo
Francesco Paolo Michetti, Morning,1878, Private collection

Another wonderful picture of Michetti is Mattinata (Morning) picture divided into two parts: on top the blue of the sea and the sky below the land and grass meticulously detailed, where there are women and men singing and dancing in traditional clothes. At the centre of the whole picture is the light that illuminates, defines, glows and burns.

Telemaco Signorini, the procession in Florence, ca 1878, Private Collection

Also, in the folk genre is to be added the work of Telemaco Signorini The procession in Florence where under olive trees among the houses stand out the colourful people in procession. Here you can notice the vibrant brushstroke, the use of shadow spots and his ability to catch the immediacy of the scene.

In the second section there is a tête-à-tête between Giovanni Boldini and Giuseppe de Nittis, men and artists very different from each other and who, among other things despised each other

The two rooms host some of the most successful works of the two painters, oil paintings and pastels that illustrate the evolution of their poetry and their language from the early seventies to the mid-eighties.

Although different, both have a certain parallelism in their Parisian and London experiences that followed the needs of the market. They both started to paint in the manner of Meissonier and Fortuny and then devoting themselves to the modern city views of Paris and London.

Boldini, more deeply involved in French high society, will also create many portraits that will gradually lead him to a more fluid and synthetic pictorial conduction with a twist of the figure that will become his trademark. De Nittis, like Manet and Degas, will approach Japanese art, becoming a collector and also participating in some workshops leading by the famous Japanese artist Watanabe Seitei. Techniques that De Nittis will study, rework and experiment to make them his own.

Giuseppe De Nittis, Dans les blés, 1873, Private collection

This oriental taste can be found in the work of De Nittis Dans les bleis very close to the works of the impressionists with the field of golden wheat and poppies hit by the hot sun, that emerges in the clouds of the sky.

In The skating lesson De Nittis resumes the eastern lesson through the asymmetric composition, with the protagonists not at the centre of the scene, the use of a few colours, great contrast between the white vastness of nature and the small black human dimensions.

De Nittis portrays feminine beauty and modernity in the Al Bois de Boulogne, the place of leisure and fashionable encounters in Paris where a woman and an elegantly dressed child observe the carriages strolling through the park.

Giuseppe De Nittis, The skating lesson, ca 1875, Quadreria dell'800, Milan
Giuseppe De Nittis, Al Bois de Boulogne,1873, Fondazione Enrico Piceni, Milan

Giovanni Boldini, Berthe reading the dedication on the fan, 1878, Enrico Gallerie d'Arte, Milan

Boldini in Berthe che legge la dedica al ventaglio (Berthe reading the dedication on the fan) expressed the taste á la mode of the time.

Berthe, his lover and model, looks down and reads the dedication immersed in the domesticity of a refined and opulent bourgeois interior meticulously detailed.

Here Boldini makes the mastery of his brushstroke in detailing the most meticulous details: the arabesque of the wallpaper, the table piano with pedals shaped like lyre and flowers taken several times in the woman’s dress.

For Boldini, the portrait of the Amazon is a transition from his early works to new works that portray the contemporary and allow him to be freer in his brushstroke. The work portrays the actress Alice Regnault in the Bois de Boulogne, and unlike De Nittis, here you can see the movement from the running horse, to the dog that follows him to the free brush of the landscape that flows behind the rider.

Giovanni Boldini, The Amazon, ca.1879, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan
Giovanni Boldini, The Countess de Rasty sitting on the sofa, Gallerie d'Arte, Milan, ca. 1878-79

Boldini’s return to portraiture is also due to his relationship with Countess Gabrielle de Rasty, which will introduce him to the hight French society. In The Countess de Rasty sitting on the sofa, he catches the countess with her torso facing the spectator and coloured just in the floral scarf and the tartan pattern that was very fashionable at the time.

A black background, without details, without elements surrounds the young woman, everything focuses on her, her beauty, her sensuality.

The third room is dedicated to a painter who arrived in Paris in his twenties with great talent, often forgotten by critics, in this room is exalted the beauty of his works. Born in Rome from a family from Narni, he trained in Naples where he studied painting from life thanks to the lessons of master Domenico Morelli.

A melancholy joy given by his favourite subjects: the acrobats. A careful, sophisticated, meticulous, real, a poet, a master, an interpreter of a society far from both the one narrated in the previous rooms and those that follow it. His interiors are poor, dirty and real, they lived, felt and suffered. The room shows some of the absolute masterpieces he performed between Naples and Paris from 1872 to 1878 including Schoolboy with Books, The Reading, The Little Girl’s Toys, The Two Dolls, A lunch on the rope, The Violin Player and Scugnizzo with Guitar. Mancini’s shy and sensitive genius, however, did not adapt to the frenzy of the great city of Paris and his stay was short and tiring.

Antonio Mancini,The Little Girl’s Toys, ca 1875, Private Collection
Antonio Mancini, Schoolboy with Books,1872, Enrico Gallerie d'Arte, Milan

Antonio Mancini, Scugnizzo with Guitar, 1877, Gallerie Maspese, Milan
Antonio Mancini, A lunch on the rope, 1874, Private collection

Federico Zandomeneghi will have a very long and complicated relationship with the Ville Lumière. Upon his arrival he was disoriented by the magnitude and the number of things to see in it. Already in 1875, he frequented the artists of the Café de la Nouvelle Athènes in Place Pigalle, a meeting place for writers, musicians, critics and young independent artists who, refusing to participate in the Salon in 1874, had exhibited their works in the studio of the well-known photographer Nadar, pseudonym of Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, the Impressionists.

Federico Zandomenighi, The violoncellist, ca 1882, Enrico Gallerie d'Arte,Milan

Frequent visits that would change forever the life and art of Federico Zandomeneghi.

On display is exhibited the extraordinary Portrait of Diego Martelli presented by Zandomeneghi at the fourth impressionist exhibition of 1879, in the Uffizi Gallery Collection, a work inspired by the living room Parisian critic friend Diego Martelli.

We can also admire Le Moulin de la Galette from the Enrico Piceni Foundation Collection; Mother and daughter, a capital painting in the artist’s production; the extraordinary The violoncellist.

The fifth section compares some urban views of Paris and London, real tranche de vie of the two very populated and lively nineteenth-century metropolises, capitals of contemporary art.

How can we not admire and compare the brightness of Boldini’s Place de Clichy with the gloomy and mysterious Westminster immortalised on a rainy day by De Nittis.

Giovanni Boldini, Place Clichy, 1874, Enrico Gallerie dell'Arte, Milan
Giuseppe De Nittis, Westminster, ca 1878, Courtesy Marco Bertoli, Modena

In a passage room, almost hidden, we could say more reserved, the female nudes are exhibited. Gentle pictorial exercises, light brushstrokes that outline the wonder of female bodies and the interpretations and approaches of the painters to the theme.

The last two rooms are dedicated to portrait and female beauty.

The first is dedicated to Vittorio Matteo Corcos from Livorno who arrived in Paris at a very young age and who in De Nittis’s living room will meet Degas, Manet, Caillebotte and will be introduced to the merchant Goupil who will allow him economic stability and fame.

The commercial success of Corcos is entrusted to the female figures at the beginning close to the style of De Nittis but then mature into a very elegant style that will make him one of the fashionable portraitists.

In the room some works of his short but fundamental stay in Paris: among them for the first time exhibited in an exhibition The butterfly, The English girl, Girl by the lake and the famous The governesses at the Elysian fields.

Vittorio Matteo Corcos, The English girl, 1882, Museo archives Giovanni Boldini Macchiaioli, Pistoia
Vittorio Matteo Corcos, The Governesses on the Elysian field, 1892, Collezione Palazzo Foresti, Carpi

In the last room a comparison between Boldini and Corcos worldly portraits, a very popular type of portrait that will make the painters fascionable among contemporaries and famous as the highest personalities stopped on the canvas by their extraordinary brushes.

The ability of both painters is to approach with exquisite delicacy the intimate world of those who posed for them and return it with the same delicacy.

On display some of the absolute masterpieces, oils and pastels, of the master from Ferrara including pastel portraits of young Chilean sisters: Portrait of Miss Emiliana Concha y Subercaseaux, the so-called White Pastel and Portrait of Elena Concha y Subercaseaux.

Works that for their composition and their format represent an important turning point in the production of Boldini and inaugurate a new successful season of portraiture of the painter.

Giovanni Boldini, Portrait of Emiliana Concha y Subercaseaux, 1888, Private Collection
Giovanni Boldini, Portrait of the Countess Speranza, 1899, Enrico Gallerie d'arte, Milan

We can admire the Portrait of the Countess Speranza caught while she is about to wear a bobcat fur cape over an extraordinary evening dress embroidered with beads and jais; and the Portrait of Mrs Josefina de Alvear de Errázuri . The last of the various portraits painted by the painter to the descendant of an important Argentinian family.

Among Corcos' works are the extraordinarily evocative and monumental portrait of the soprano Lina Cavalieri, the dreamlike Anna Belimbau and the meditative Neo-Renaissance portrait of Lia Silvia Goldmann Clerici.

Vittorio Matteo Corcos, Portrait of Lia Silvia Goldmann Clerici,ca 1912-1915, Private Collection
Vittorio Matteo Corcos, Portrait of Lina Cavalieri, ca 1902, Private Collection

Boldini De Nittis et Les Italiens de Paris is a well-conceived exhibition that makes you breathe the splendour and influences of the Parisian Belle Époque interpreted in the works of our Italian painters.


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