masterpieces from italian collections

9 NOVEMBER 2016  
19

Antonio Fontanesi

(Reggio nell'Emilia 1818 - Turin 1882)

IL GUADO

oil on panel, 78,5x115 cm

signed lower left

on the reverse of the frame: labels of the exhibitions of Turin (1932), Paris (1935), New York (1949), Rome (1951-1952), Milan (1954), Tokyo - Kyoto (1977-1978), label with "Monti & Gemelli Milano 81", label with the number "427", inscribed "Esposiz. Int. Venezia 1901 N. 574" and "1901 Venezia N. 427".

 

Provenance

Cristiano Banti collection, Florence

Conte P. Gazelli Brucco collection, Florence

Luigi Cora collection, Rapallo

Gran Uff. Rag. Mario Rossello collection, Milan

Paolo Stramezzi collection, Crema

Private collection Milan

Private collection

 

Exhibitions

Salon de 1861, Palais des Champs-Élysées, Parigi, 1861, Peinture, n. 1140

Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, dessin, etc. exposés au Palais électoral, Palais Électoral, Ginevra, 1861, n. 108

Esposizione delle opere di Belle Arti nelle Gallerie del Palazzo Nazionale di Brera per l'anno 1861, Palazzo Nazionale di Brera, Milano, 1861, n. 340

Quarta Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia, Palazzo dell'Esposizione, Venezia, 1901, Sala O - Mostra retrospettiva di Antonio Fontanesi, n. 16

Antonio Fontanesi 1818-1882, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Torino, 1932, Sala Prima, n. 11

L'Art Italien du XIXe et XXe siècles, Musée des Écoles étrangères contemporaines - Jeu de Paume des Tuileries, Paris (?), 1935, Peinture, n. 100

Exhibition of Italian XIX Century Paintings, Galleria Wildenstein - Metropolitan Museum, New York,1949, n. 37

VI Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte di Roma, Roma, 1951-1952, Sale 57-58, n. 1

Il paesaggio italiano - Artisti italiani e stranieri, Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente, Milano, 1954, Sala IV, n. 48

Fontanesi, Ragusa e l'arte giapponese nel primo periodo Meiji, Museo Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Tokyo - Kyoto, 1977-1978, n. 10

 

Literature

Explication des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, gravure, lithographie et architecture des artistes vivants, catalogo della mostra, (Parigi, Palais des Champs-Élysées), Parigi 1861, p. 137 (con il titolo Le gué)

Ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, architecture, dessin, etc. exposés au Palais électoral, catalogo della mostra, (Ginevra, Palais Électoral), 1861, (con il titolo Le gué)

Esposizione delle opere di Belle Arti nelle Gallerie del Palazzo Nazionale di Brera per l'anno 1861, catalogo della mostra, (Milano, Palazzo Nazionale di Brera), Milano 1861

Catalogo illustrato. Quarta Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia, catalogo della mostra (terza edizione), (Venezia, Palazzo dell’Esposizione), Venezia 1901, p. 128

M. Calderini, Antonio Fontanesi. Pittore Paesista 1818-1882, Torino 1901, p. 86 ill.

M. Bernardi, Antonio Fontanesi 1818-1882, catalogo della mostra, (Torino, Galleria d'Arte Moderna), Torino 1932, pp. 7-8, 20, tav. f.t.

mar. ber., Cronaca cittadina. Rievocazione di un grande artista. Torino per Antonio Fontanesi, in "La Stampa", 19 agosto 1932

M. Bernardi, I maestri della pittura italiana dell'Ottocento. Antonio Fontanesi, A. Mondadori Editore, Milano 1933, pp. 37, 39, 67, 245, tav. XVI

Catalogue. L'Art italien des XIXe et XXe Siècles, catalogo della mostra, (Parigi, Musée des Écoles étrangères contemporaines - Jeu de Paume des Tuileries), 1935, p. 53 (con il titolo En Dauphiné)

R. Calzini, 800 Italiano. 12 opere di Maestri italiani nella Raccolta Stramezzi, Milano 1948, s.p., tav. 2 (con le misure 116 x 80,5 cm)

E. Somaré, Pittori Italiani dell'Ottocento, catalogo della mostra, (New York, Galleria Wildenstein - Metropolitan Museum), New York 1949, p. 54 (con le misure 80,5 x 126 cm), tav. 37

VI Quadriennale Nazionale d'Arte di Roma, catalogo della mostra, (Roma), Roma 1951, p. 122

G. Castelfranco, Pittori italiani del Secondo Ottocento, Roma 1952, p. 45, tav. XXXVII

Il paesaggio italiano - Artisti italiani e stranieri, catalogo della mostra, (Milano, Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente), Milano 1954, pp. 32, 176 (con le misure 115 x 80,5 cm e con la tavola come supporto), tav. 67

E. Somaré, Pittori Italiani dell'Ottocento, catalogo della mostra (seconda edizione), (New York, Galleria Wildenstein - Metropolitan Museum, 1949), Milano 1957, p. 54, tav. 37

C. Maltese, Storia dell'arte in Italia, 1785-1943, Einaudi, Torino 1960, p. 191, tav. 83

L. Mallé, La pittura dell'Ottocento piemontese, Torino 1976, p. 209 ill., tav. 259

Fontanesi, Ragusa e l'arte giapponese nel primo periodo Meiji, catalogo della mostra, (Tokyo - Kyoto, Museo Nazionale d'Arte Moderna), a cura di A. Dragone, K. Adachi, M. Kawakita, Tokyo 1977, s.p. (con i titoli Il guado o The Ford), tav. f.t.

R. Maggio Serra, "Antonio Fontanesi pittore paesista". Un artista italiano in Europa, in Antonio Fontanesi 1818-1882, catalogo della mostra, a cura di R. Maggio Serra, (Torino, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea), Torino 1997, pp. 70 (con il titolo Le gué), 77 (con i titoli Le gué o Il guado) - 78, 80 ill., 84

E. Canestrini, Cronologia, in Antonio Fontanesi 1818-1882, catalogo della mostra, a cura di R. Maggio Serra, (Torino, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea), Torino 1997, p. 245 (con il titolo Le gué)

P. Sanchez, X. Seydoux, Les Catalogues des Salons - VII - (1859-1863), Dijon 2004, s.p.

E. Staudacher, La collezione Rossello. Storia di una raccolta d'arte leggendaria, in La collezione segreta. Raccolta Mario Rossello, a cura di F.L. Maspes, E. Staudacher, Gallerie Maspes, Milano 2016, pp. 73 ill., 78

E. Staudacher (scheda), in La collezione segreta. Raccolta Mario Rossello, a cura di F.L. Maspes, E. Staudacher, Gallerie Maspes, Milano 2016, pp. 286 ill. - 288

 

1861, the year of the Unification of Italy, was a happy year for Fontanesi: the works he exhibited in May in Paris in the Salon – Il guado, dated 1861, and Il prato (already exhibited in Turin in 1859) – and that were later sent to Milan in December for another exhibition, were much praised by Corot and Troyon; the paintings exhibited in Florence were admired by the Macchiaioli, one was purchased by King Vittorio Emanuele II (Dopo la pioggia, today in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Florence) and the other by the Ministero della Pubblica Istruzione (la Quiete), who in 1863 destined it to the Civica Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin.

Therefore, at the age of 43, the artist was at the height of his success, with paintings that proved he had wholly reached a mature and very original artistic language.

After taking part in the First Italian War of Independence in 1848-1849 with the Garibaldine volunteers, he found refuge in Switzerland, first in Lugano and finally in Geneva. Here he quickly settled down, both learning and improving different techniques (besides oil and pastel painting, he dedicated himself to drawing, as is shown by the many sketchbooks and by the fusain, the charcoal drawings of which François Diday was the master in Geneva; but he also acquired an exceptional skill in lithography, to meet the requirements of several important commissions; in 1858 he started applying himself to etching, and from 1862 onwards he produced cliché-verres of extraordinary allure), and developing his own recognizable formal language (it is enough to observe the large drawing Cour de St. Pierre, 1851, to recognize the atmosphere and the typical elements of his poetics).

Starting from his fundamental stay in Paris, as Troyon’s guest, in order to visit in 1855 the Exposition Universelle, he updated his style drawing inspiration from the most advanced French experiences of the previous decades. An evolution that was favoured by frequent stays in the Dauphiné, where, from 1858 onwards, he was a guest of François-Auguste Ravier, thanks to whom he got to know the colony of Lyonnaise anti-academic artists who used to gather together round him. But year after year Fontanesi, painting en plein air between Crémieu, Creys, Optevoz and Morestel, expressed his own “sentiment of nature” that went far beyond the styles of the other artists that frequented those areas: much more refined and intense is the poetry with which he is capable of interpreting landscape, and more original is his way of applying and working the chromatic material. Fontanesi’s paintings in fact, show a very personal language and style, that gave rise to admiration among experts and innovators, but also perplexity among the more traditional public, a “lazy” spectator in its habits that was unprepared to observe, prejudice free, the novelties that the more sensitive artists were able to offer: these looked indeed to the great masters of the past centuries, but also renewed their inspiration comparing themselves – with “free” mind and eyes, engaging their deepest feelings – with the reality of the period.

If we observe those paintings by Fontanesi, we recognize a lyrical and elegiac strength, a spirit of intimate idyllic life, that is rooted in classical poetry and in the painting of the past centuries, but that is also translated into substance of disconcerting freshness and simplicity of application – gestural, one would say –: that manages to enhance light in the representation of landscape, of figures and of the sense of harmony that captures “the moment”, and at the same time places itself in a “timeless”, almost eternal, dimension.

The artist portrays and fixes an essence of an expansive and airy nature in his works, so vast as to seem to challenge the transience of time, but also to evoke that subtle disquiet (an aspect that will be intensified over the following decades, until the Bufera imminente in 1874) that arises from the awareness that it is just a moment seized in its most intense and vibrant beauty, and not eternity, although it may appear so.

Yet, in this happy 1861 – when the artist could hope to have overcome the wounds his sensitive soul had endured due to the ferocious experience of war and of the bloody conflicts on the battlefields, and to be able to enjoy the fruits of his admirable unceasing, professional artistic commitment – the tone of his paintings is characterized by a fully elegiac serenity.

This applies to La Quiete, 1860, a masterful composition played on the balance between the left side of the painting, with the two elegant figures (tridimensional silhouettes against a space that stretches towards infinity), and the right side of full nature, in which the rock of heavy-bodied paint is almost dialoguing with the calm stretch of water; while in the centre the vertical axis is marked, at the bottom, by the typical small figure leaning towards the spring, and, at the top, by the light that pours through between the leafy branches of the trees.

In fact, already in this phase, the most charming and fascinating element in Fontanesi’s paintings is light: it is enhanced by a careful composition built on successive planes, where areas of shade and different degrees of luminosity alternate, capable of introducing the vision of a space that stretches out and fades into infinity; in both Dopo la pioggia and in Il guado, light is the protagonist.

In this extraordinary masterpiece, the foreground in shadow (with the threadlike greenery that reaches the water and that will be seen again around 1875 in his paintings of ponds, along with a very essential and incisive way of painting, incredibly avantgarde for the time) creates the effect of a visual telescope: it emphasizes the magic light that falls on the animals wading across the stretch of water and that also arrives from the right, illuminating in full sunlight all that horizontal area of the painting, with the firm figure of the shepherd against the light and the rest of the cattle illuminated that moves across the sand towards the mottled, crystal clear surface of the water. This appears as calm as the meander of a lake but also rippled by a slight current, which is expressed by the colour tone vibrations of the paint that convey the thousand refractions of light onto a wonderfully vibrant surface that multiplies the variations of azure, silver, gold and the delicate browns of the reflections of animals and trees.

The delicacy and the chromatic richness of the water find a companion in the soft, majestic beauty of the vast sky; but it is in the eurythmy of the trunks and in the vibrant foliage and branches where Fontanesi – once again – manages to alternate shaded, half-lighted or fully illuminated areas: he thus ends up creating a painting in which one never tires of finding new details, each one more refined and poetic than the other. The Studio per “Il guado” (oil on carton, 32x44,5 cm, in the Galleria Ricci Oddi, Piacenza) reveals quite clearly the conception of the composition, with a curved upper profile and the choice to simply depict the nature of the place, with neither animals nor shepherds.

The fact that Il Guado is an extraordinary masterpiece of this phase of Fontanesi’s career is not just an opinion I share with the main scholars of the artist who came before me, but it is also demonstrated by the prestigious collections it was part of: recent studies confirmed it once belonged to the Florentine Cristiano Banti, one of the most sensitive and cultured painters of his time, friend and important patron of Fontanesi (of whom he owned dozens of works, even if Calderini – in his fundamental monography – lists only ten paintings in his name, without mentioning Il guado) and then passed on to the most illustrious private collections of the 1900s.

Lastly, it is no coincidence if Angelo Dragone – in the exhibitions held in Japan in 1977-1978 that celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the Kōbu School of Fine Arts in Tokyo, the first centre created by the Japanese nation for the teaching of European style arts, where Antonio Fontanesi was called for a three-year contract as a teacher – bestowed particular attention on Il guado.

That was the occasion for my father to resume studies on Fontanesi started decades before, examining the subject in depth in such an organic and complete way as had never been done before (also drawing up the catalogue raisonné of his engravings), achieving one of the most thorough critical and historical interpretations of the painter, uncontradicted even today, though integrated over the last forty years with many further studies.

In the sophisticated, trilingual, Japanese catalogue, the large photograph of Il guado dominates the cover.

                                                                                                          Piergiorgio Dragone

 

 

 

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