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Bagheria 1905 – 1975
Water-polo player, 1942
Bronze, Height 28,5 x 33,5 x 26 cm
Signed on the edge: S.C. / Roma XX
Rome, private collection
Vittorio Sgarbi, Vigorose impronte: Pina Calì pittrice, Silvestre Cuffàro scultore, Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Bagheria, edited by Paolo Ferruzzi, Editore Falcone, 2006
This is a superb example of the best work by the sculptor Silvestre Cuffaro, a Sicilian artist who worked in Rome and in Sicily in the second half of the 20th century, and who was defined by his fellow islander Renato Guttuso in 1932 as “at once very modern and yet ancient“.
Though little-known today on account his decision to return to his native island(2), Cuffaro can in fact be counted as one of the greatest sculptors of the 20th century. After embarking on his career at a young age in 1928 under Mario Rutelli, his master as the Accademia, by carving the bas-reliefs for the sides of the Monument to Anita Garibaldi on the Janiculum Hill in Rome, Cuffaro went on to show his work at numerous exhibitions, including the Sindacali of 1932 and 1935, the Venice Biennale of 1936 and the Quadriennale of 1939, invariably winning prizes and prestigious public awards(3).
Despite The Water-Polo Player having been carved several years after the major sculptures for the Foro Italico, it clearly harks back to the same theme, doubtless on account of the popularity of sports as a theme with young sculptors in the years following the great project of the Foro Mussolini (4).
Yet Cuffaro here brings a basically different style into play, an intimate style imbued with sporting idealism rather than with political propaganda. In this intense work the sculptor captures the moment in which the player is about to hurl the ball into the goal, his vigorous gesture communicating the movement of the water crystallised in the movement forming the crest of the waves, as the athlete’s perfect body emerges from the water, his smooth and carefully chiselled chest and arm muscles picked out with almost Hellenic precision.
The sculpture is totally, and precociously, free of any rhetoric, possibly thanks to his interaction with a group of Sicilian artists in Rome comprising Peppino Piccolo, Renato Guttuso and Mimì Lazzaro. Unlike the figures of the athletes in the Foro, here the figure is deeply human and anti-rhetorical, light years away both from academicism and from any artificial anti-academicism. Cuffaro here breathes life into a vigorous yet soft and true sculpture that was to prompt Vittorio Sgarbi to say of him: «A powerful and candid vision of nature, a true pastoral eclogue in Cuffaro’s lovely non-academic work, gives him a far from secondary place in the history of sculpture in this century thanks to the clear sincerity of his accents and to his meditated, archaic, still neo-Quattrocentesque choice of form…» (5).
- Renato Guttuso, Lo scultore Silvestre Cuffaro, in “Bagheria oggi”, 1932, now on: Renato Guttuso. Scritti, edited by Marco Carapezza, Bompiani, Milano 2013, pp. 21-22
- Discussing the difficulties encountered by many excellent artists, including Cuffaro, in becoming well-known outside Sicily, the brief text presenting the artists at the exhibition in the Castello di Mesola talks about a “curse on the island” (see Scultura italiana del primo Novecento, Catalogue of an exhibition curated by Vittorio Sgarbi, castello Estense, Mesola 2 May – 30 July 1992, Grafis editore, Bologna, 1992, p. 8)
- Cuffaro won the silver medal at the Sindacale Regionale di Sicilia in Palermo in 1932, while he was awarded the gold medal for his bas-relief entitled “The Tale” at the VI Mostra d’Arte del Sindacato Interprovinciale Belle Arti di Sicilia. After the war, he began to show his work again and to teach at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Palermo (being appointed its Director in 1957) while also entering competitions and, on winning them, producing a series of monuments in Sicily that include the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele Orlando in Palermo, a large statue of Ceres in Gela in 1954, the War Memorial in Bagheria in 1954 and the bas-reliefs for the new headquarters of the Banco di Sicilia in 1956 and for the Palazzo delle Poste in Augusta in 1958.
- Maristella Margozzi, Stadio dei marmi. Lo sport attraverso la statuaria moderna, in Maria Luisa Neri, Enrico Del Debbio architetto. La misura della modernità, exhibition catalogue at Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’arte moderna, 7 December 2006 – 4 February 2007, Rome 2006, p. 419
- Scultura italiana del primo Novecento, Exhibition Catalogue… (op. cit.) Bologna, 1992, pp. 80-81