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Gino Severini (1883-1966) originally trained under pointillist painter Giacomo Balla and initially remained close to his style, with an emphasis on Luminist effects and the contrast of light and shade. He arrived in Paris in 1906 keen to learn more about the work of Seurat. In 1910, Raoul Dufy, who had the neighboring studio, introduced him to scientific Divisionism. His urban views, painted in quite a free Pointillist style, are reminiscent of Signac but also seem quite close to the landscapes painted by Van Gogh in Paris in 1887 with their broken brushwork and lighter palette. His few pastel portraits are closer in style to Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. He continued the Divisionism experiments in his early Futurist works by integrating colored planes and adding sequins to his dancers. In 1911, Gino Severini joined the Futurist movement, having already signed the Manifesto in 1910. His large painting, The Dance of the Pan Pan at the Monico, was the highlight of the 1912 Futurist exhibition. He acted as mediator between the artists from Milan and those of the Parisian avant-garde, and joined the Futurists on their European tour. His preferred subjects at this time were crowds, urban scenes and places of entertainment, very different from the themes of his artist friends (The Boulevard, Estorick Collection, London). He also represented movement in his series of dancers produced in 1912-1913.
Severini abandons Futurism for Cubism
In 1914-1915, at the invitation of Marinetti, Severini produced a series of paintings on the war (“Train Blindé [Armoured Train],” MOMA, New York). In 1916, after abandoning Futurism, he became part of the Cubist movement until 1919. He rubbed shoulders with Cocteau and Matisse, and met Juan Gris. During this period, he painted still lifes that included real fragments of wallpaper, newspapers, musical scores, etc., basing them on a set of complicated calculations. His Cubism stood out for the subtlety of color harmonies. At this time he produced many theoretical works on geometry, the Golden Section and harmonic lines, resulting in the publication in 1921 of his book From Cubism to Classicism on the relationship between art and mathematics.
Severini’s return to tradition and realism
He returned to traditional painting values by concentrating on “construction.” From 1920 to 1943, his art entered a new phase with the “Return to the Figure.” With his classical and realist-style Portrait de Jeanne et sa Maternité, dating from 1916, he became part of the “Return to Order” movement. Like other artists of the time, Picasso, Gris and Derain, Harlequin characters and the Commedia dell’ Arte fascinated Severini. His still lifes became more decorative. This new transformation in his painting style, so far removed from Cubism, is evident in decorations created for the Sitwel family at Montefugoni in Tuscany.
Severini’s Italian phase
In the 1930s, he also worked on a number of religious mosaic murals for the churches of Tavannes and Saint Pierre de Fribourg in Switzerland. Severini painted relatively few easel paintings at that time. His subjects were more intimate and family-orientated. He alternated between hieratic portraits and still lifes (musical instruments, pigeons, ducks and fish) inspired by the decorations in Pompeii and by Byzantine mosaics in Ravenna. Along with other artists like De Chirico, Picabia, and Ernst, he was involved with the decoration of Rosenberg’s house. Between 1928 and 1930, he exhibited with the Italian artists in Paris.
His 1938 “Harlequin” completes an exhibition that presents the many different aspects of an artist much more multi-faceted than his fame as a Futurist painter would have us believe. His work fits perfectly with the Musée de l’Orangerie collections, particularly in his desire for a classic “return to order” and his numerous representations of Harlequin that unquestionably bring him closer to André Derain.
Musée de l’Orangerie presents “Gino Severini (1883 – 1966): Futurist and Neoclassicist” until July 25th, the first retrospective of the work of the Italian painter Gino Severini since the 1967 show at the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris. It features some 70 works from private collections and museums in Europe and the U.S.
Lloyd S. Rubin is the editor of Art Knowledge News and we thank him for this, his first BonjourParis contribution.
Painting and photo credits:
Gino Severini “Printemps à Montmartre,” 1909. Private Collection ©Archivio Fotografico Mart. ©ADAGP
Le Boulevard, 1910-1911. Estorick Collection ©ADAGP, Paris 2011.
Cannoni in azione (Guns in Action), 1915. Private Collection ©Archivio Fotografico Mart. ©ADAGP
Musée de l’Orangerie
Tel. 01 44 77 80 07
Jardin des Tuileries, Paris 1st
Hours: Open every day except Tuesday, May Day, and Christmas, from 12:30 to 7 (and until 9 on Friday).
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Admission: 7.50 € (2011); reduced rates for children, seniors and people with disabilities.
Accessibility: stairs in front; ramp on side after crossing gravel and cobbles. Please call ahead if you’re confined to wheel chair to have a guard open a security door.
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