19 Dec Vincenzo Gemito at the Petit Palais
Vincenzo Gemito at the Petit Palais – Sculptor of the Neapolitan soul
Abandoned as an orphan, raised at the religious institution Santissima Annunziata in Naples.
At the age of 17, created and sold a statue to King Victor Emmanuel II for his palace in Capodimonte.
Stirred up a scandal in France in Paris at the Society of French Artists. Took part in the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and 1900.
Friend to painters Antonio Mancini (1852–1930), Ernest Meissonier (1815–1891), and Filippo de Pisis (1896–1956).
Inspired brilliant artists the caliber of Edgar Degas (1834–1917) and Auguste Rodin (1840–1917).
Opened an artistic foundry with a baron.
Admitted to a psychiatric clinic.
If this were the plot of a television drama, we might think that the writers had gotten a little carried away. But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. This was the real life of the great Neapolitan artist Vincenzo Gemito (1852–1929). France is paying tribute to him with an exhibition at the Petit Palais in Paris from October 15, 2019 to January 26, 2020.
The wonderful retrospective illustrates the artistic path of this sculptor who was also a sublime painter as we can see in “Il Piccolo Pescatore,” [The Little Fisherman], an absolute masterpiece in Milan in Sergio Baroni‘s collection.
Vincenzo Gemito’s strength was his sincerity, termed by art critics, in their obsessive need to categorize, “Neapolitan Realism.”
He simply portrayed what he saw around him, which were not always happy scenes.
From a young age, he frequented the Archaeological Museum of Naples. Here, alongside the classical ancient remains found in Herculaneum and Pompeii, he admired the incomparable works in the Farnese collection.
His familiarity with classical art was, therefore, uncommon, as we can see in works of his like the Brutus terracotta at GNAM, the Narcissus and the Bronze Philosopher at Capodimonte, and his hypnotic Medusa at the Paul Getty Museum.
Despite these wonderful works, his heart clearly pulled him in another direction.
Born and raised in poverty, his soul and his art naturally turned to the “little people,” the invisible ones, and he naturally (rather than realistically…) made them eternal in bronze, plaster, and terracotta.
As the panel says, he “stirred up a scandal” in Paris with his ragged, toothless fishermen “so far from the classical beauty that the French public expects from a work from Italy.”
But there were some French people who seemed to appreciate it.
Among these were Auguste Rodin and Edgar Degas (whose family lived in Naples, we learn here), who were inspired by Vincenzo Gemito’s art for their own.
Our great artist was a victim of his success; King Umberto I commissioned two monumental works from him, a silver centerpiece and a portrait of Charles V. His possibilities were endless.
His fragile balance could not withstand the stress, and he was lost. As the description reads, “the sculptor’s mental state deteriorated.”
He recovered and first devoted himself to small pieces, as if he were a goldsmith, and then obsessively portrayed Alexander the Great.
We pay tribute to the path of this artist who was unique in so many ways.
Petit Palais Paris
from October 15, 2019 to January 26, 2020.