This Italian video is about Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Italian divisionist painter (1868-1907).
From British daily The Morning Star:
A living torrent
(Monday 23 June 2008)
EXHIBITION: Radical Light: Italy’s Divisionist Painters 1891-1910
CHRISTINE LINDEY looks at a style of painting that caused shock waves throughout the Italian establishment at the end of the 19th century.
Fascinated by the analysis of colour and optics by scientists Chevreul and Rood, the French artist Seurat applied their theories to painting in the 1880s.
Small dots of colour juxtaposed onto a white surface would mix in the eye of the viewer when seen from a certain distance, so retaining the luminosity of natural or artificial light.
Differences of tone to convey the solidity of objects were created by adding dots of complementary colour. For example, yellow and red dots merge into orange, while adding blue dots created a darker orange without darkening the overall tonality of the painting. He called this method “divisionism,” but critics derided it as “pointillism” and the name stuck in France.
These ideas soon spread. They were brought to Italy by the dealer-critic-painter Grubicy. There, divisionists tended to prefer using threads or dashes of divided colour rather than dots. Never an organised movement, the Italian divisionists’ concerns lay within the opposing ideologies of socialism and mysticism.
The political situation in 1890s Italy was highly charged as the growth of the electoral franchise, literacy and industrialisation raised class consciousness. Challenging rural poverty and exploitation, the recently formed labour movement called for land redistribution and higher wages.
Those peasants who escaped the countryside to find building and domestic work in the fast-growing cities, notably Milan, found themselves poorly housed and underpaid. The ensuing well-supported strikes and demonstrations were broken up with fierce police and army brutality.
Socialist artists including Pellizza, Nomellini and Balla equated divisionism‘s scientific, rational basis with a modernism which matched their political beliefs. Their paintings would be radical in form and subject.
When working on the Living Torrent (1895-6), Pellizza wrote: “I am attempting a social painting … a crowd of people, workers of the soil, who are intelligent, strong, robust, united, advance like a torrent, overwhelming every obstacle in its path, thirsty for justice.”
A massive painting, its life-size peasants march resolutely towards the viewer, the central figure suffused with light in a powerful representation of the might of organised political struggle.
Longoni‘s The Orator of the Strike (1890-1) depicts an impassioned mason speaking high above the rally from a builder’s scaffolding. In the background, the army charges fleeing protesters with fixed bayonets.
The left-wing press reproduced and discussed such works, spreading their power beyond the walls of art museums and galleries. Some argued that they were over-didactic, others defended them as effective calls to arms.
Such fiercely topical works were seen as a threat by the authorities. Longini was put under police surveillance. So harsh was state repression that he and Pellizza later retreated into a vague symbolism.
Other divisionists exposed social injustice. Morbelli‘s For Eighty Cents! (1893-5) shows a line of peasant women ankle-deep in the foetid water and stinking heat of rice fields. The title scoffs at their derisory pay. …
For the symbolists, divisionism was a means of conveying states of mind rather than a positivist engagement with realism. Previati’s and Segantini’s quasi-mystical paeans to the sanctity of motherhood belong to a conservative Catholic tradition which resisted political and social change.
Segantini’s well-fed, tranquil peasants are far removed from Pellizza’s angry, hungry living torrent. Portraying peasant life as reassuringly idyllic and unchanging, his works conveyed a conservative ideal.
Grubicy’s idealised landscapes, influenced by Japanese prints, represent the city dweller’s rose-coloured longing for nature unsullied by human habitation or intervention.
Divisionism was the first aesthetically radical manner to be widely known in Italy. Within a culturally provincial climate, its adoption symbolised the rejection of tradition in favour of modernity. As some divisionists were also socialists, aesthetic radicalism became associated with political radicalism in the public mind and the manner became doubly synonymous with all that was outrageous.
This has masked the fact that, by the 1890s, appreciating and collecting esoteric avant garde art signified sophistication and social superiority for a section of the haute bourgeoisie. …
However, the following generation of Italian divisionists boldly capitalised on the legacy of the pioneers. Balla’s, Boccioni’s and Carra’s paintings exploded into an uncompromising riot of modernist colour and expressive brush marks so genuinely radical that they had an international impact. They soon aligned themselves with Marinetti’s futurists which inherited and perpetuated the twinned antagonistic ideological roots of Italian divisionism.
This exhibition gives a clear account of these divergent tendencies and influences. It is a pleasure to see the socialist works of Balla, Nomellini, Pellizza and Longini. Arguably the most stunning room is the last one, in which we can see icons of modernism such as Boccioni‘s The City Rises (1910) and Balla’s spectacular Street Light (1910-11).
However, be prepared for the many works which were anything but radical too.
Exhibition shows until September 7 and costs £8 or £4 on Tuesday afternoons and Wednesdays 6-9 pm. Concessions £7-£4.
See also here.
- ‘Matisse: In Search of True Painting’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (galleristny.com)
- Doing a Henri Matisse in three new paintings (creativepotager.wordpress.com)
- Cubist Painter Flats – The Nicholas Kirkwood ‘Picasso’ Slipper is a Humble Work of Art (TrendHunter.com) (trendhunter.com)
- How Leonardo da Vinci’s angels pointed the way to the future (guardian.co.uk)
- Peter Schjeldahl: “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1925,” at MOMA. (newyorker.com)
- Today’s Birthday: ROSA BONHEUR (1822) a painter (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- Today’s Birthday: FERDINAND HODLER (1853) a Painter (euzicasa.wordpress.com)
- Murillo and Justino de Neve: The Art of Friendship, Dulwich Picture Gallery (standard.co.uk)