23 September 2012

Aristide Maillol: Painter Of Women

Aristide Maillol, the sculptor, whose bronze wood, and terracotta figures  are both modern in feeling and classical in form, is well known.  But there were other Maillols: Maillol the Nabi painter and Maillol,  the son of a fabric seller, whotried to revive tapestry-making and bring work to the people of his  hometown  in the French Pyrennes and nearly lost his eyesight while trying.

Now, the Rotterdam Kunsthal's new exhibition will display rarely seen works of Aristide Maillol the painter.  Just as his models in sculpture were classical (Phidias the Olympian), and in tapestry the medieval  weavers of Cluny, his models in painting were among the best of the Italian Renaissance.   Maillol portrayed his female sitters through the lens of Leonardo da Vinci and Ghirlandaio.  

In the Catalan language of Maillol's native Pyrennes, maillol means "young grape vine."  The artist would need that kind of hardiness.
His years of study in Paris brought extreme hardship, overwork, unsanitary living conditions and malnutrition which caused Maillol's rejection for military service.  Yet, Maillol survived to  an age beyond most of his contemporaries, only to die in an automobile accident on a rainy road near his hometown of Banyuls-sur-mer.

"How did I escape unscathed?  I came close to losing my life,  Deathly ill as a result of deprivation and a lack of care, and knotted with rheumatism, I spent long periods of time in the hospital, and came out only to fall into misery.  I occasionally thought of putting an end to it by leaping into the Seine."

Maillol (1861-1944) only executed his first large sculpture at  thirty-five, after six months of temporary blindness brought on by eye strain caused him to give up weaving.  The tactile aspects of sculpting attracted him during this enforced period of limited vision.

Dina Vierny was a fifteen year old student when she met the seventy-three year old Maillol.  Vierny, like Maillol's friend the Hungarian artist Jozef Rippl-Ronai, was also from eastern European.  She came from Moldova, located between Romania and Ukraine. Vierny, like the artist's late wife Clothilde, radiated the calm demeanor of classical portraiture, or so Maillol has painted them.  Their self-possession is probably realistic, a sign of the artist's respect for his subjects, and he compels that in the viewer, and our admiration as well.

Visit Musee Maillol online.

1. Aristide Maillol - Two Young Girls, 1891, Musee Maillol, Paris.
2. Aristide Maillol - Woman In White (Clothilde Narcisse before her marriage to Maillol), 1891, Baron Adolphe Kohner Collection, Budapest.
Aristide Maillol - Dina At The Farm, 1941, Musee Maillol, Paris.
Aristide Maillol - untitled, Musee Maillol, Paris.

17 September 2012

Franco Fortunato's Recovered Cities

"  Looking into each globe, you see a blue city, the model of a different Fedora.  These are the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today.  In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it an ideal city, but while he constructed his minature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe."

Situated on a hill above the Tyrrhenian Sea, not in a bottle, the old medieval town of Librizzi lies between Messina and Palermo in northeastern Sicily. Where the four communes of San Piero, Montalbano Helicon, and Librizzi, meet in a point called Quattrofinaiti. Each August, the commune celebrates a festival of macaroni!  My father's ancestors took their name from the commune of Librizzi,  founded circa 1100. 

When I purchased  La Citta Ritrovata (The Recovered City) by Franco Fortunato, I thought that I, too, had recovered a city, an imaginary ancestral home.  The image of a city in a bottle also made me think of the walled cities of Europe in the Middle Ages.  Fortunato, in Golden River (below) uses a palette similar to one often used on antique maps (see map of Parma at bottom).

Fortunato the artist can be recovered, in a way, through his work.  Italo Calvino's book, Invisible Cities, a series of imaginary conversations between the explorer Marco Polo and the emperor Kubla Khan, was an obvious beginning.  Through their dialogue in two languages, alternatives ways of looking at cities emerge.  Invisible Cities has become a sourcebook for architects and artists, and I suspect that Fortunato is one of them. 

 Although Fortunato was born in Rome in 1946, the city-states of the Italian Renaissance, particularly Florence with its red-tiled roofs, have served as his model cities.  He found his way to art after studying the sciences and then literature.    In images in blues and golds he pays homage to painters of the Quattrocento, and in his synthesis of geometrically ordered space with the fantastic there is a hint of an affinity with such recent Italian artists as Piero Fornasetti (1913-1988).

Fortunato likes to work in series: The History of the Park, Recovered Cities, Isolated Towns, The Vagabond, The Poet, and Leaves of Time.  He will take a quixotic idea, such as a city unfurling like a film strip, and come at his subject like the errant knight tilting at the windmill from every direction.    In Leaves Of Time, an entire city is revealed to be nested in a tree, and why not?   The planet we live on continues to be revealed as a small object in an ever expanding universe and our spatial sense is constantly being revised. If we know that we hang off the side of the earth at an angle, thanks to Isaac Newton, who knows what else we may learn in time?   Surrealism is a term often applied to Fortunato's cities, but his lack the forebodings of Giorgio de Chirico's surreal public spaces. 

"Beyond six rivers and three mountain ranges rises Zora, a city that no one, having seen it, can forget. ,,Zora's secret lies in the way your gaze runs over patterns following one another as in a musical score where not a note can be altered or displaced.

‘The ancients built Valdrada on the shores of a lake… Thus the traveler, arriving, sees two cities: one erect above the lake, and the other reflected. Upside down.”

 “..every street follows a planet’s orbit, and the buildings and the places of community life repeat the order of the constellations and the position of the most luminous stars…”

“From one part to the other, the city continues in perspective, multiplying its repertory of images: but instead it has no thickness, it consists only of a few and an obverse, like a sheet of paper, with a figure on either side, which can be neither separated not look at each other.”

All quotations are excerpted from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, translated from the Italian by William Weaver, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1974.
To learn more visitwww.francofortunato.com

1. Franco Fortunato - La citta ritrovata (Recovered City), private collection, New York.
2. Franco fortunato = The Golden River, Himmelberger Gallery, San Francisco.
3. Piero Fornasetti - City Of Cards, Massimo Listri, Thames & Hudson.
4. Franco Fortunato - City In The Wind, Arte Lombardi.
5. Franco Fortunato - La Citta Isola (The Isolated City). Franco Fortunato website.
6. Franco Fortunato - Recovered City, Himmelberger Gallery, San Francisco.
7. Franco Fortunato - Recovered City, Arte Lombardi.
8. Franco Fortunato - La Spiaggia (The Beach, Salon at the Municipal Palazzo, Siena.
9. Unidentified artist - Map of Parma,  15th century.