Portrait of a girl

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Vincenzo GEMITO

Naples 1852 – 1929

Portrait of a girl, 1916

Watercolour and pencil paper, 55 x 30 cm

Signed and dated lower left: V.Gemito / 1916 / Napoli


Rome, Aldo and Amelia Ambron collection

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Vincenzo Gemito used drawing both as a tool for exploring reality and as a preparatory medium for his ideas for sculptures, and indeed it was to play a central role in the creative process for him throughout his career from his earliest youth, when addressing reality for him meant paying heed to the attraction he felt for Neapolitan 17th century art; when, together with Antonio Mancini, he was beginning to paint prosaic scenes of everyday life in the city’s streets, transfiguring the meticulous, neo-Flemish realism of so many genre motifs and imparting a nobility of composition to them in a search for formal perfection, as opposed to the slapdash approach of the sketch and yet a different matter from pure naturalism. His was sculpture that clung extremely closely to his subject’s physical reality while imbuing it with a lyrical vein that turned it into a living, palpitating form, into a clay “imprint” of life, in harmony with the sentiment that reality stirred in the artist.

While in Paris in the mid-1870s, he was also able to note, through frequenting the French capital’s artistic circle how a revisiting of the ancient world by an artist capable of rediscovering the technical processes of the age such as casting and cire perdueallowed him to achieve precious and evocative results.

His bond with the Museo d’Arte Antica in Naples took on a quality of greater awareness, translating into a specific direction. In the early 1880s he thus devoted his energies to the creation of such works as Narcissus, in which the model inspired by Classical antiquity and the tension of the modern artist overlap with one another in a perfect, elegiac balance.

In the following years, however, the sculptor’s success and the difficulties that he encountered disturbed his troubled mind and so for some twenty years, from c. 1886 to 1909, Gemito deliberately shunned the company of his fellow man.

It was between the first and second decade of the 20th century, after lengthy isolation caused by a period of serious psychic decline, that Vincenzo Gremito began to resume his artistic activities, once again sharing his time between sculpture and drawing. His graphic work reached an even more complex degree of completion, emulating sculptures in the round on the two-dimensional surface of the paper and in some ways exasperating their effects through the adoption of a graphic synthesis focusing ontrompe l’oeil.

The little peasant girl under discussion here, portrayed in a three-quarter pose and forced to adopt a stance reminiscent of a young Bacchusin the style of Caravaggio, superimposes the movement of her arms in torsion, resting on what appears to be a pedestal or a sculptor’s stance and turning her head to offer a view of her naked neck and shoulder depicted in a strong, sculptural chiaroscuro.

There is a photograph portraying Gemito alongside his young daughter, who is seated in a pose very similar to that of our peasant girl; and, in turn, the child’s fine head, studied with a wealth of highlights combining the pearly tone of watercolour and dazzling touches of white lead, seems to be a study related to a sculpture that Gemito was to model and cast in the same period, a Greek Girldated 1916 (Naples, Palazzo Zevallos). The girl has an idealised face and body, yet the image on which the bronze is based is a drawing similar to this one portraying the living features of a Neapolitan girl.

The circular relationship between our drawing, the photograph mentioned above and the sculpture shows us how Gemito gradually got the sculptural and spatial complexity of his subject into focus, a process that was then bolstered by further verification. The drawing, which has its own independent formal perfection in any event, also represents a particular phase in the artist’s interpretative study: that of the visualisation of a sculpture’s ‘profiles’ in a verification process at once stringent and free, testifying to the degree of sophistication with which Gemito continued to add further atmospherics to his vision despite being in the final phase of his life.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Monica Vinardi


This artwork has been required as a loan to the exhibition dedicated to the artist that will take place in Paris from 15 October 2019 to 15 January 2020 at the Palais Petit

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