Impressionism is often described as an obsession with light. Indeed it was. Monet was on a frantic quest to record each and every glimmer of light that happened to strike his eye. Yet light was not the only inspiration for him and his friends. As this exhibition shows, the inspiration of nature was ever-present in their work even though its meaning for their artistry is ever-elusive. One thing everyone agrees upon is that nature was more than a ready excuse to paint en plein air. Consensus continues to grow about the parallels between the innovative artistic language of the Impressionists and their distinctive view of nature as a dynamic equilibrium composed of countless elements held together in a tenuous harmony.
Articles by Daniel B. Gallagher
Marianne von Werefkin (1869 – 1938) is one of those rare artists whose words and sketches almost tell us more about her paintings than the paintings themselves. The words are found in her Lettres à un inconnu written while travelling through Brittany, Paris, and the Provence with artist/companion Alexej von Jawlensky. The sketches, initially outlined in ink and later colored in with pastel or tempera, were her way of satiating an irrepressible “thirst for the abstract” which she subsequently expressed in her full-scale works.
This exhibition in the heart of Rome’s centro storico highlights Italy’s part in the exploding cosmopolitanism of 19th-century France. In addition to masterworks by Boldini, De Nittis, and Zandomeneghi (1841 –1917), it features Vittorio Corcos, Antonio Mancini, Telemaco Signorini, Serafino De Tivoli, and several others. Many of the pieces belong to private collections rarely available for public viewing. The cafés, boulevards, theatres, and salons they depict give us some premonition of a self-congratulatory civic pride which would culminate in the 1889 Paris Exhibition.
Master portraitist Gwenneth Barth describes the realist painter as one always treading a tightrope between two worlds—the conscious mind and its perception of reality—adding: “But are these really different worlds?” This is precisely the question provoked by a highly unique exhibit bringing together thirty masterworks of Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) and Francis Bacon (1909 – 1992) displayed in nine salons at Rome’s Borghese Gallery. The organizers assert that the aim is neither to connect these two figures historically nor to compare them according to generally accepted standards of criticism, but rather to give the viewer an extraordinary “aesthetic experience” on the occasion of the fourth centennial of Caravaggio’s death and the first of Bacon’s birth. Be that as it may, even those wishing merely to gawk at the spellbinding canvases of two of art’s most famous bad boys will leave pondering the relation between the conscious mind and its perception of reality.
Alexander Calder’s (1898-1976) acceptance of the prize for sculpture at the XXVI Venice Biennale in 1952 forged a bond of friendship with a country he had admired for some time. He was especially close to art connoisseur Giovanni Carandente, who sadly passed away last June 7th while working furiously on the catalogue for this exhibit. Carandente is largely to thank for introducing Italy to the radical idea that art could break forth from closed frames into three-dimensional space and engage the surrounding environment by contrast and analogy. Carandente’s keen interest in urban sculpture boded well for Calder, whose “Teodelapio” (1962) outside the Spoleto train station ignited a passion for public art in Italy that endures even today. His friendship with Carandente expanded the possibilities for his prodigious output, leading him to design several opera sets for theatres across Italy. Although Calder declined the Medal of Freedom offered him by President Gerald Ford on political grounds, he went on to accept several degrees honoris causa from prestigious Italian universities.
After a stroll through the Roman Forum, visitors to the Eternal City these days are just a few steps from one of the most impressive and comprehensive exhibitions of dadaistic and surrealistic art ever realized. Noted art historian and theorist Arturo Schwarz, curator of the exhibition underway at the Vittoriano and once owner of many of its pieces (since donated to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem), has brought together over 500 oil paintings, drawings, sculptures, readymades, collages, assemblages, and photomontages to showcase the enormous variety of twentieth-century avant-gardism. Having befriended André Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Jean Arp, and Man Ray, he knows Dada and Surrealism as well as anyone.