Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Oscar Ghiglia, A Forgotten Master

I came across the work of Oscar Ghiglia in a visit to Villa Mimbelli in Livorno years ago. Since then I always cherished the catalogue I have and never have enough of looking at his work.

Portrait of Isa, 1908, oil on canvas 25x21

   Ghiglia ( b.1876 ) came from a very poor family in Tuscany and lived in poverty for most of his life.
He was self taught and started painting in his early youth while doing all sorts of other jobs. In those years he lived in Livorno, an important city on the Tuscan coast, and was friend with Modigliani, also from Livorno but with a Jewish bourgeois background, and other notable painters like Llewelyn Lloyd. Ghiglia was able to overcome his humble origins and really became part of the cultural elite of Tuscany.

It was not until 1901 that he moved to Florence and signed up to receive some formal artistic education at the Scuola del Nudo, led by Giovanni Fattori.
Fattori was the star painter of the time; although often referred to as student of Fattori, Ghiglia (pronunciation) was not. Fattori respected him as an artist and they paid each other studio visits, but Ghiglia did not belong to his students group.

In Florence he joined a group of intellectuals instead, including Papini and Prezzolini who will eventually form the core of the Futurists.
Ghiglia's artistic breakthrough happend in 1901 when his self portrait was included in the prestigious Esposizione Universale in Venice. He quickly acquired a reputation as a portrait painter although he never turned into a fashionable one.

Portrait of Llewlyn LLoyd, oil on canvas 89x88, 1907

His portraits are characterised by a solid perspective structure, immediate but in fact very complex. They never indulge toward sentimentality nor they become flamboyant.  With a classical departure point, they are made modern by the simplification of the drawing; all the emotional content is reduced to a precise construction of the image.

He chosed portraiture because of its classicism, deriving from his constant visits to museum and galleries. He refused impressionistic instances coming from France, preferring Nordic influences, such that one of Hammershøi, that we see in his domestic interiors. The majestic and statuesque
figure of his wife Isa appears over and over, sleeping, writing, plaiting her hair.

The White Shirt, oil on canvas 21x59, 1909

Paulo with the boat, oil on canvas 63x63, 1925?

A detail from this painting sold at Christie's in 2011

In 1914 he moves to Castiglioncello, a small town on an area of Tuscany that is characterised by a particularly clear un-hazy light, with Isa and their five children. It is a sort of nature call that agrees with his, at times paranoid, feeling of isolation.

Here he will paint some beautiful landscapes that are integral to his work. The underlying structure is there, his solid brushwork that is the opposite of "optical" impressionism; the colours are pushed away from pure realism.

Campagna a Castiglioncello, both 12x39 oil on cardboard, 1914
These for me remind some of Uglow's landscapes.

     The format and the subjects recall the Macchiaioli painters but landscape for him is in fact a rational construction. It is not until that period that he might have come in contact with the work of Cezanne, with which he shares the concept of a painting as physical object and the use of colour as builder of form. In a letter to his friend Natali, then in Paris, he mocks the "isms" in favour of an attention to "the real" and  he suggests: " go see Cezanne: you'll be convinced that the past, yes, is the future".

View of Villa d'Ancona a Volognano, oil on panel 39x28.5, 1913/1915
an incredible forerunner of Morandi's landscapes 

The genre that will forever be his favourite though is still life. He starts painting still life around 1907, hence before ever seeing Cezanne.
Here he is at liberty of making the space he has rationally devised, here he can simplify drawing down to pure form, here he can reach that almost supernatural light ( he worked under electric light) that reveals the form entirely.

Forms are solid and there is no flickering of brushwork, even the highlights of the reflective surfaces he loves painting are thick and geometric. The colour is clean and solid but gaps in the layer show the liveliness of the luminous matter underneath.

Composition with Checked Cloth, oil on cardboard 35x49, 1923/1925
Cezannian in the way the bowl is tilted, but the shift makes total sense in design and perspective avoiding the ambiguity of planes of the French painter.

The Chicken, oil on canvas 47x60, 1910

The shells, oil on canvas 55x91, 1925/26
The Mirror, oil on canvas 50x48, 1909
The table of Mrs Ojetti with the figurine that recalls Ugo Ojetti and perhaps echoes Carl Larsson's famous self portrait.

After the Great War, to which he was too old to take part, Ghiglia will continue painting and producing many of his masterpieces, although in growing isolation.

Despite his ongoing contact with intellectuals ( his friendship with the controversial intellectual Ojetti has been seen as one of the causes for being ignored by art historians) he remained distant from politics and did not adhere to Fascism. He never really enjoyed a national success and remained anchored to local friends patronage. His house and all the objects that had appeared in his paintings were lost in a bombardment in WW2. Ghiglia died in 1945.

Self Portrait 1920

Information and images from: Oscar Ghiglia, dal Leonardo agli anni di Novecento Edizioni De Luca
Further information from: Oscar Ghiglia, L'alzatina Sforni  ( thanks to Larry Groff for this link)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Annabel Cullen

I first became aware of Annabel's work when I saw her portrait of  Baroness Blackstone hanging in the National Portrait Gallery. This year I had the pleasure of meeting her briefly as we showed together in the Portrait Painters Today Exhibition. Here Annabel writes about a painting I just saw last week being honoured with one of the prizes at the Lynn Painters- Stainers Prize.

Who are you?
I am a painter based in London.  I rarely paint anything other than people, but I spend a lot of time drawing trees.

Something about this one
This was a return to painting after a long break during which I only made drawings.  I wanted to get an element of Adrian's torso being almost like a marble sculpture emerging from the wall.  The tones and texture of his pale skin fascinate me, and there is something fragile about his physicality, in spite of his muscular physique. 

Where is it now?
It currently showing at the Lynn Painter-Stainers Prize exhibition at the Mall Galleries in London (until 22 March).  It was shortlisted for the prize.

Technical notes
Oil on canvas with limited palette:
Zinc white
Paynes Grey
Raw Sienna
Burnt Sienna


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Recent Monotypes

In the past months I have continued my printmaking activity and I have shown my monotypes at the Works on Paper Fair at the Science Museum in London.
I was very happy to learn that a very small monotype I made as a study while completing a large portrait in oil has been accepted at the Royal Society of Portrait Painters annual Exhibition and will be on display at Mall Galleries in May. This is the first time that my monotypes are recognised and having only started making them about one year ago I am excited with the progress I made.

Study for Queen of Sheba, 10x10 cm
Portraits are quite difficult to do, particularly at this size. I made about twelve attempts,  this one was number 4. 

      I must confess here that I do not draw very much, I really don't like working with line.
Learning to manipulate the ink on the plate has provided me with a way in which I can easily visualise ideas and quickly create images that hold a certain mystery and feel complete and self sufficient. I can satisfy my urge to depict a certain image that I have in my mind, or something that I have just seen.

   I have been at the printing press almost daily, particularly as natural light fades and the light in the studio is switched on. Printmaking fills moments of emptiness in between paintings and, as I always paint from observation, feeds the wandering mind when it needs to get away from that.

Night Drive I and II
An image I have seen for a split second driving home at night recently. This is an example of painting the same scene many times: results are never the same. Some of the changes are intentionally made by me, some just happen.

So some monotypes are directly related to my paintings, like the portrait above and others who are done from the paintings themselves; some are done from memory, like Night Drive or the ones I did of the flood in Rome after seeing it in February. 

These past days I have worked in a different way, perhaps more conceptual.
My friend Roni Taharlev made a comment on a tiny study from Bellini, saying that it looked like an antenatal scan. In fact there is a strong assonance between those images and the velvety, swirly marks of ink on paper. So I had this idea of translating these evocative pictures in monotype, and I have been making a series of works that reproduce scans in a larger scale. 
Growth, gestation, a sense of the cosmos, are all themes that I have found while working. With monotypes I can explore darker places.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Lynn Painters-Stainers Prize 2014

The Lynn Painters-Stainers prize Exhibition is now open at the Mall Galleries in London. This is a prize that has been created in 2005 to encourage representational painting, and it awards a very good prize of 15,000 GBP to the winner.
This year it was awarded to Catharine Davison for one of her beautiful and intricate views of Edimburgh. After her screech of joy at the announcement, in her acceptance speech she gave an account of how she moved to Scotland, gave up teaching and pledged to work from observation recording views of the city.

Below are some photos from the show. My first impression was that there were a lot of landscapes even though back home, upon checking the Lynn Painters-Stainers website, they are probably just a little more than half of the selected paintings.
Here are some random images of a few works from the show:

I particularly like this "Bonnardy" work by Bridget More, the Dog Bath. The watercolour Varanasi I on the right shows the diversity of the works exhibited, including some traditional travel watercolours.

Very few still life paintings. These two sinks by Alex Rooney and  Timothy Betjeman were hanging together. 

I was delighted to see "Whippet" by Colleen Quill ( top centre), who comes to my painting sessions in Lots Road, among the selections. A busy week for her as she will be also showing in a group show, Motherood, opening on Wednesday at Chelsea Town Hall, together with another selected painter, Sarah Jane Moon ( recipient of this year's Bulldog Bursary). This is her portrait on show: Nazita, Brixton.

Annabel Cullen's "Untitled (Adrian Gillan)" was awarded one of the runner-up prizes. We both had works at the recent Portrait Painters Today show.

I enjoyed seeing a large version of Eileen Hogan's beehive after admiring her smaller works at Browse and Darby's Christmas show. In contrast to the summery feeling of her painting, below is a subtle snowy landscape by David Caldwell.


Among the self portraits my favourite was this delicate one by Naomi Grant, who won the Young Artist Award a couple of years ago.

The discerning hanging of the far wall, featuring a self portrait by Cherry Pickles, two landscapes by Emma Haworth and Jenny Smith, a reclining figure by Charles Williams and a very complex figure composition by the brilliant James Bland.
A very good show for anyone who enjoys painting !

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Mi Blog Es Tu Blog - Jill Bathorpe

I saw Jill Barthorpe's show a few years ago and I was particularly interested in her peculiar mark-making. I can see an influence of the Slade School of Art but then she has developped it in her own individual way.
Many thanks Jill for the contribution to this series of blog posts

The Blue Gate, oil on canvas, 20x30 inches

Who are you
I’m a painter based in London and Lincolnshire.  I paint landscapes and still lifes.

Why this one
It’s one of my favourite views.  I have painted it several times and I always find it fresh and exciting as the seasons, the weather and the crops change.

Something about it
All my paintings are based on an intense scrutiny of my subject.  I tend to return to the same places and use the same props many times as there always seems to be more to say about them.  I work from what is in front of me and what I find beautiful.  When I’m painting this landscape I’m aware the view across the fields is so horizontal that I look for as many verticals to counter that emphasis and days with deep clouds are perfect.  I find the shock of the electric blue gate against all that nature stops me in my tracks.

Technical notes
Oil on canvas.  I always stretch and prepare my own canvases so I can get the surfaces exactly as I like them.

Where is it now
It has just been collected for an exhibition of my work at Francis Iles Gallery, Rochester, Kent, opening on 27th March.

Basic Palette
Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Cadmium Green
Cadmium Red
Alizarin Crimson
Cobalt Blue
Cerulean Blue
French Ultramarine
Blue Black


Thursday, 6 March 2014

Next Summer

   If in these weeks you are making plans for the summer, why not spend some time painting in Italy ?
Perhaps you have already heard about the summer program of the Jerusalem Studio School. The program is run by the painter Israel Hershberg who has found a painting home in Civita Castellana, just North of Rome. 

 " Civita was a Grand Tour epicenter of open air landscape painting for artists sojourning through the Roman Campagna. It has been painted and inhabited by such artistic eminences as Corot, Ingres, Turner, Granet, Michallon, Valenciennes, Dughet, Bertin and played host to the likes of Mozart, Byron, Goethe and others too numerous to list. This is the landscape that set on fire Nicholas Poussin’s and Claude Lorrain’s Arcadian imaginations as they traversed northward from Rome toward Monte Soratte through the Campagna on horseback and on foot, drawing and dreaming."

    I went last year for a two weeks residency and can't recommend it enough. I haven't really written about my time there because it was a very personal experience. What I can say though is that I understood many things about painting and about how I paint. 

The first small painting I made when I went to "my" Tuscany one month after the residency.

   I could only go early in the summer, when courses hadn't started yet, so I opted for a residency without tuition. I was normally in the studio by 7.30 and for once I didn't have to worry about what time it was and what to feed the family, I had no unsolicited contact with the outside world and I only had to worry about painting. I felt no pressure of producing anything remotely good: I had never painted outside en plein air and I knew I had to learn the ropes. 

  The JSS program offers different choices: a residency- complete freedom without tuition while enjoying time with a community of like minded artists and great excursions-, the masterclass - a very intense and focused class, ideal for the ambitious student- and the affiliate program - two weeks under the tutelage of one of an amazing line up of artists. Among these, let me spend a word for my good friend, the exceptional Roni Taharlev, whose sharp intelligence and clear vision I enjoy in an ongoing internet dialogue and who I know is an encouraging and inspiring teacher. On top of the program there is the chance of meeting many artists from all over the world as well as this year's guest of honour, Vincent Desiderio.

This is a video produced by Larry Groff ( author of the Painting Perceptions blog) with works painted in Civita last summer. Please take some time to read through the exhaustive information on the JSS website to learn more and be inspired to make a leap into " an artistic immersion of a lifetime" !







Wednesday, 26 February 2014

A Proud Daughter

   That would be me, and I hope you will forgive this deviation from strict painting matters to which the blog is devoted and read about the publication of a book that was sponsored and curated by my father in his continuous endeavour to enrich our cultural heritage and preserve masterpieces of the past for future generations.

When I think about the story of my family, the painters like Cosimo and Bernardo, Francesco the printmaker, my own humble work makes more sense to me.  Stefano di [son of] Giovanni Rosselli is an ancestor I didn't know about.  He was a scholar ( the term antiquario now refers to antique dealers but it used to mean an antiquity scholar)  and interested in many fields, and he saw fit to spend seven years of his life wandering around churches in Florence and mapping all the tombs.

 Indeed a jolly pursuit, but the resulting book, his Book of the Deads, which included notes on the deceased and on the architecture and history of the chapels and churches he visited, is an invaluable source of information for historians and art historians. He included stories of Florentine personalities and their families and drawings of coat of arms and monuments.

  Very few inaccurate copies of the book were available in some Florentine institutions and in the Biblioteca degli Intronadi in Siena. Now the art historian and archivist Michelina di Stasi has studied and transcribed the scribble-like text of the original as well as investigated the life of Stefano and the cult of the deads from pagan times to Christianity.

  The resulting book, "Stefano di Francesco Rosselli, Antiquario Fiorentino del XVII Secolo ed il suo Sepoltuario", includes a cd with reproductions of the whole of the original manuscript. It will be presented on Friday the 28th of February in the most apt location, the Museo delle Cappelle Medicee by an illustrious panel including the Special Superintendent for the Arts Cristina Acidini and by Antonio Paolucci, current director of the Vatican Museums, who also wrote the introduction.

   I am very proud of the huge volunteer work my father has done in the past thirty years to preserve and promote our heritage in a nation that squanders its artistic riches such as Italy. In the past he has organised a wide variety of events, open days of historic private houses, dozens of conferences, and conventions, conservation workshops and restorations, often battling short-sighted public administrations and an ever present lack of funds. I wish there were more people like him in Italy !