Monday, December 23, 2013

The Fourth Estate

"The Fourth Estate',  Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (1901)
This fascinating painting hangs as an introductory and special exhibition on your way into the  Museo del Novecento, which houses twentieth-century Italian art. The Novecento site tells us:
Opening the Museo del Novecento with The Fourth Estate by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo means attesting to a divide more than preparing the visitor for what he or she is about to see in the rooms that follow. The purpose of this painting, which was completed in 1901, was to celebrate the ideals of humanitarian socialism using the theme of a procession of workers advancing and the pictorial technique of scientifically-based Divisionism; but it also marked the final important episode, for Italy’s figurative civilization, in artwork as program, thereby characterized by a search for a superior and concomitant clarity of form and content. But that was not all. The Fourth Estate also identified the end of a season in which the painter’s trade was governed by a respectful, almost natural coming to terms with the museum (here, in particular, the reference is to Raphael’s School of Athens, whose cartoon Pellizza had studied at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana), based on the belief that historic styles traced a continuity that was not just formal but also ideal between past and present.
The painting is an interesting example of the 'socialist ideal' school, painted quite early (well before the rise of Lenin and his crew, for example). The advancing workers are characterised by some as strikers. The point it marks in Italian history is an interesting as the point it marks in art history. The technique used - "Divisionism" - can't really be appreciated from a reproduction, but up-close-in-real-life you can see that the colours are all formed not by mixed but by the very careful placements of lines of colours next to each other, giving a subtle, and surprisingly gentle, result. The painting. by the way, is very big - 293 cm × 545 cm. The Novecento has devoted a great deal of research to this painting, and it includes and exhibition of the artist's preparatory drawings and sketches. The website goes on"
Notwithstanding its ambitiousness, the painting attracted little attention at the time: when it was first displayed at the 1902 Turin exhibition it was neither purchased by the royals (the subject was obviously a sensitive one) nor was it awarded the Premio degli Artisti. The great disappointment that came with these failures contributed to the artist’s deep crisis, which culminated in his committing suicide just a few years later.  After entering the Civiche Gallerie by public subscription in 1920 at a time when Milan was led by a Socialist council and the political climate seemed to be ripe for the concrete prospect of revolution, The Fourth Estate, especially in the aftermath of the Second World War, was considered to be on a par with a manifesto-painting of the ideals of the Left, whether reformist or revolutionary. Hence, for a great deal of time it was denied the status of representing a crucial episode in the history of Italian art, until its lofty pictorial values were reestablished with its restoration and permanent display at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna as of 1980.
 The painting was originally entitled 'The Path of Workers', and the artist had dealt with a similar theme in earlier works such as 'Ambassadors of Hunger', 'Stream of People' and a preparatory sketch of 1898, 'The Path of Workers.' It's said that the inclusion of a woman int he front-line of the workers was ground-breaking in its day. Whatever the politics of it, the painting is incredibly effective in suggesting that a crowd of people is about to walk straight out at you.

Wiki gives a short potted bio of the painter, Pellizza:
Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo (July 28, 1868 – June 14, 1907) was an Italian neo-impressionist painter. He was born and died in Volpedo, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy. He was a pupil of Pio Sanquirico. Pellizza used a divisionist technique in which a painting is created by juxtaposing small dots of paint according to specific colour theory. His most famous work, Il Quarto Stato ("The Fourth Estate"), has become a well-known symbol for progressive and socialist causes in Italy, and throughout Europe. The painting is shown during the opening credits of Bernardo Bertolucci's film 1900.
Have a look at this blog by Settimio Benedusi and the moving photograph he's made below. Pellizza might have been impressed?

Settimio Benedusi.

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