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Naples 1852 – 1929
Portrait of Bertolini
Graphite and black crayon on paper, 36 x 25 cm
Signed an dated lower right: V. Gemito / 1914 7 Napoli
Salvatore Di Giacomo, Vincenzo Gemito. La vita e l’opera, Minozzi, Naples 1905, pp. 155-156.
Anna Villari, Vincenzo Gemito (Napoli, 1852-1929), in V. Bertone, Disegni del XIX secolo della Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea di Torino. Fogli scelti dal Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe, t. I e II, II, Leo S. Olschki, Florence 2009, pp. 567-569.
Denise Maria Pagano, Gemito, exhibition catalogue, Electa, Naples 2009.
Vincenzo Gemito never tired of drawing, considering it a perfectly parallel and natural activity for a sculptor. It became for him the vehicle for a kind of hyper-realistic form of visual meditation with a charge of abstract, almost hallucinatory sensitivity, as we can see in his outstanding Self-Portraits.
There exist two large Portraits in pencil and white lead depicting two young adolescents, members of the Bertolini family of Naples, dated 1914. The Bertolini family owned and ran the Palace Hotel Bertolini at the Parco Grifeo in Naples, and the two drawings were probably commissioned from Gemito for display in the hotel’s reception room. The two Portraits, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, depict Laura Bertolini and her brother surrounded by children’s attributes.
We have dwelled on these two Portraits of the Bertolini children because the drawing under discussion here is known by the title of Portrait of Bertolini (reproduced in Gemito 2009).
It portrays in detail, with its meticulous and sensitive handling of chiaroscuro, only the head of a young man aged about twenty, his bust with its jacket, shirt and tie being barely sketched in. The sitter gazes straight out at the observer, lost in thought, his expression one of suspended melancholy. His hat is tipped back, its broad rim raised over a noble forehead, and he evinces an attitude which one might be tempted to call arrogant but which, in reality, given the soft melancholy of his gaze and the sweetness of the chiaroscuro defining the modelling of his features, simply expresses only the contemporary mood.
The shape of his face, the slant of his eyes and his fleshy mouth appear perfectly to mirror the features of the Portrait of the boy with a gun in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. However, if we set any store by the dating on the sheets, however, we find that both drawings were produced in the same year, 1914, while the two sitters do not look the same age at all.
One is tempted to suggest that the sitter in this drawing is simply a different member of the Bertolini family, but it is also possible that Gemito may have based his Portrait of the boy with a gun in 1914 on an older photograph and that our Portrait was also produced in 1914 but showing the young man at the age he really was in that year.