Galleries 153 and 155, first floor
Marking the first exhibition in the United States devoted exclusively to Antonio Mancini, one of the most prominent Italian painters of the late nineteenth century, this exhibition highlights a unique group of paintings and pastels that recently entered the Museum's collection as a gift from the estate of the American art collector and dealer Vance N. Jordan (1943–2003). Mancini worked at the forefront of Verismo, an indigenous Italian response to nineteenth-century realism, producing haunting portrayals of circus performers, street musicians, and impoverished children taken from the streets of Naples. After suffering a disabling mental illness, Mancini settled in Rome, and with the support of American and Dutch patrons managed for many years to eke out a precarious existence. The artist John Singer Sargent, who famously declared Mancini to be the greatest living painter, eventually introduced him to a circle of wealthy English patrons for whom he produced notable society portraits. Many of Mancini's paintings incorporated thick impasto, whose glittering light effects he enhanced by adding bits of glass, metal foil, and other materials. This exhibition includes a comprehensive selection of paintings, drawn from public and private collections in the United States and Europe, to complement and provide context for the Museum's acquisitions, as well as a selection of Mancini's many reflective self-portraits, which chronicle periods of both mental instability and the satisfying equilibrium brought by old age and fame.
Mancini invented a number of highly personal working methods. One was a device he called the gratìcola—or perspective grid—made of a wooden frame with strings stretched across in all directions. One such frame was placed in front of the subject, while another was placed against the canvas in use. Mancini described this mysterious apparatus variously as a means to obtain the exact perspective of his painted objects or to capture the important element of tone. Very often the artist allowed the marks of the gratìcola strings to show in the finished painting, sometimes subtly, but at other times quite aggressively. In extreme cases these grid marks impart a textured, almost quilted decorative quality to the painted surface. Those who witnessed Mancini painting never forgot the experience, particularly the unusual procedures that emerged in connection with the artist's first mental crisis. Eyewitness accounts of his working methods convey a sense of intense—even harrowing—involvement, as described by a visitor to his studio:
There at the back, before a little table on which I see scattered an infinity of bric a brac, cloth flowers, embalmed stuffed birds, an inexpensive doll, there is the model Aurelia, an insignificant type of woman with olive complexion and an aquiline nose. She was posing as a vendor. Mancini, in shirt sleeves, extremely nervous, bustled about delivering brush strokes, that resembled blows of a whip, onto a canvas supported on the back of a chair. He snorted, he muttered to himself, he cursed at the model who wasn't able to remain still, then he quickly distanced himself from the subject and bent down on his knees. Plump and not too flexible as he was, he stooped down and withdrew from his pocket binoculars which he used to view her in reverse. All of this while panting out of breath, and raving like someone obsessed. To complete the scene, Mancini's doddering father, stood off to the side interrupting him the whole time with constant chatter. "Anto," he said over and over again, "Anto, let's go to dinner." Quote from Augusto Jandolo, Le memorie di un antiquario (Milan: Casa Editrice Ceschina, 1938), p. 176
The exhibition is supported in part by The Robert Montgomery Scott Fund for Exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Ulrich Hiesinger • Guest Curator, Department of European Paintings Before 1900