Sunday, April 14, 2019

Tiepolo in Milan: The Lost Frescoes of Palazzo Archinto

Yes, I am writing about a Frick Collection Exhibition again.  It’s not my fault if they keep doing interesting shows!  This one intrigued me because I wanted to find out how they found a lost fresco.

An important fact when studying Tiepolo … there were two of them: Giovanni Battista (called Giambattista) (1696-1770) and his son, almost as famous, Giovanni Domenico (known as Giandomenico) Tiepolo (1727-1804).  The subject is of particular interest to me as I have always loved the work of the both of the Tiepolos. Here, however we a dealing only with the work of Giambattista.

I was particularly curious about this exhibition’s subject because my gallery bought a ceiling fresco by Tiepolo about 60 years ago. Unfortunately, in the process of removal half of it came off on the canvas and the other half was left on the ceiling.  Even though this happened before I joined the firm, I was there for the tax examination when the Internal Revenue Service accused my family of collusion with Sotheby’s, because when we put the canvas at auction it brought so much less than we had paid, and we had claimed the loss on our tax return.  Yes, a totally ridiculous claim but I learned a lesson.   Our lawyers settled with the IRS.  As a young person I was furious.  This was crazy.  The lawyer, however, asked me would I prefer to pay the IRS X or their firm 3 times X to fight it!

The frescoes of the Palazzo Archinto were “lost” for a different reason.  The allies bombed the hell out of the Palace during World War II and there was nothing left to remove!  The Frick has attempted to put Humpty Dumpty together again or at least give us an idea of what we are missing today, The current  show brings together 50 works of art and artifacts relating to the ceiling frescos.  They include paintings, a number of preparatory drawings, photographs and books.  Together they give us an inkling of how sumptuous the palace must have been.

There is also a 160 page catalog.  Usually, a catalog is done in aid of an exhibition.  In this case I get the distinct impression that the exhibition was done to justify the publication.  There is an abundance of material in the catalog about the Archinto family with portraits of its principal members as well as works of art that had once belonged to the family.

I remember my first exposure to Tiepolo’s mastery of  ceiling painting was on a visit to Wurzburg when I was young, my mother called me just to tell me to be sure to go and see the ceiling in the Residenz. It was well worth the visit!

The five ceiling frescoes Tiepolo painted for the Palazzo Archinto, in Milan in 1730-31 was his first major commission outside of Venice.  How did this happen?  Milan had lots of artists of their own. The Archinto family had long been one of the city’s most prominent, renowned for their library and art collection.  They had commissioned book illustrations from Tiepolo and must have been aware of the impressive mural projects he was beginning to get from patrons in the Veneto.

Quite possibly members of the family had travelled to Venice and seen the frescos in a palace there such as The Triumph of Marius,  from the Palazzo Ca' Dolfin of 1729, now in The Metropolitan Museum.  Hiring a rising young star from Venice for the redecoration of their residence would have furthered their prestige.

In 1916 Henry Clay Frick bought his only work by Tiepolo and it was the painted sketch, modello, for the Archinto Perseus and Andromeda ceiling.  Thirty  years later the fresco was gone. So this show is a bit like seeing an old photo of a lost loved one.  It isn’t going to bring them back but it is a “souvenir”.  Here is the Frick “Perseus and Andromeda” sketch.

Photo by Michael Bodycomb

The ceilings were recorded in photographs before World War II and the Frick show includes a few rare images taken in 1897 lent by an archive in Milan.

Photo by Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

Another of the 1897 photographs is shown with one of the most elaborate oil sketches “The Triumph of the Arts and Sciences, from the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga Lisbon.

Photo: Luisa Oliveira

Photo: Centelli & Molfese issued by
Azienda di Servizi alla Persona Golgi-Redaelli

The show will be up until July 14, Bastille day, but that is for another day and another place!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

“The Young Picasso – Blue and Rose Period”

Whenever, I hear there is another Picasso exhibition, I think haven’t we seen it all and I am always happily surprised to see his work shown in a new light. This exhibition at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, Switzerland focuses on Picasso’s blue and Rose periods. This show is a reduced version of one in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay last year, amazingly, the first show ever in Europe to focus on this period of the artist’s life.

Pablo Ruiz Picasso (1881-1973)was born in Málaga, Spain but spent most of his adult life in France which had been the art capital of the world since the late 17th century. Leading the art movements of the day he became one of the most famous artists of all time and his works still bring extraordinary prices at auction. As communications move faster and faster, just think, Picasso was alive when the radio was invented at the end of the 19th century and today we can get auction results in real time. The headline from The Art News Paper was “Multi-Billion-Dollar Picasso Show heads to the Beyeler”.   My first reaction was what hyperbole, what show is worth billions?  Well, remember, these days it only takes 9 or 10 Picassos to reach those figures!

In my opinion, great artists first learn how to draw and then add their own inspiration but that is not always considered true today.  In Picasso’s case there was no choice.  At 13 he attended the School of Fine Arts in Barcelona, where his father, also an artist, taught.  In 1897, he began his studies at Madrid's Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, which was Spain's top art academy at the time.  By the beginning of the 20th century he was developing his own style. This is one of my favorite periods of his work and it is the subject of the current exhibition at the Beyler Foundation.

The art dealer Ernst Beyeler (1921-2010) and, his wife, Hilda Kunz (1921-2008), created the Beyeler Foundation in 1982.  They commissioned Renzo Piano to build the museum in Basel, which opened in 2007.  Its purpose was to display the Beyelers’ private collection of established modern works as well as their tribal collection   Exhibitions are done putting the collections in context.  Interestingly, the Beyeler has no Picassos from either the Blue or Rose periods. The earliest Picasso in the collection is a sketch for Demoiselles d’Avignon.

I dimly remember first seeing Les Demoiselles d'Avignon at the Museum of Modern Art as a small boy and being a bit confused by it.  I am sure I reacted the same way other art lovers looked at this painting in 1907, whose style they were not prepared for.  Of course, because of its original title The Brothel of Avignon it was at first seen as salacious, but I was not into that at the age of 7!

Before 1907 Picasso’s work had been far more naturalistic.  The Harlequin character from the Italian commedia dell'arte was a favorite Picasso figure during his Blue Period of 1901-1904.  Here is a great one in the Beyeler exhibition done in 1901 when Picasso was just 20 years old. It was lent by the Metropolitan Museum, so I was well acquainted with it.

Another Blue Period work in the show is La Vie (Life), 1903 from the Cleveland Museum.  According to the Cleveland Museum website, “In 1901, depressed over the suicide of a close friend, Picasso launched into the melancholic paintings of his Blue Period… restricted his palette to cold colors suggestive of night, mystery, dreams, and death.”  The limited palette may also have been because he could not yet afford more interesting and expensive colors.  The picture has been interpreted in various ways and with this information I will let you make up your own minds as to it meaning.

To show how wide the Beyeler has cast its net, this is a picture I have never seen before, a painting lent by the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.  It is also from 1901 and called “Arlequin et son Compagne” (Harlequin and his Companion). It does not look like this date is going well!

Looking at the Rose Period paintings just a few years later (1904-1906) we see   Picasso sticks with the theme.  There is The Seated Harlequin of 1905 where the unsmiling performer looks out from a red background lent by the Berggruen Museum. This museum is one of the National Galleries of Berlin which houses the collection of another art dealer in modern masters, Heinz Berggruen.

My final image is The Nude Young Woman on a red background dated 1906, one year before Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.  You can already see the new direction in which Picasso’s approach to the figure is going. This was lent by the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.

Museums like to lend for exhibitions that further the history of art and bring works of art together that will enhance our understanding of the artist. Even so Blue and Rose period Picassos are rarely lent but the Beyeler succeeded with this show that is truly a blockbuster!

Bringing you this Missive was not as simple as most.  After several emails with the Foundation and their Legal department I had to apply to ProLitteris Bildrecht, the Swiss equivalent of The American Artists Rights Society to whom they forwarded my request.  After being questioned as to what my motives were and I finally convinced all that my blog was pro bono and like a review, then more discussions between the Artists Rights Society and the Foundation’s legal department the way was finally cleared for me to use the press images above.