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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gino Severini

Simultaneity of Centrifugal and Centripetal Groups (Woman at a Window),
1914, Gino Severini
There's an ancient Chinese saying of dubious attribution which states: "May you live in interesting times." It first appeared in English literature around 1936 and sounds as if it might have come from a fortune cookie. Of course, the key word here is "interesting," the definition of which varies from person to person. However, most people would agree that we live in interesting times right now. But insofar as art is concerned, with the possible exception of the Renaissance, the most interesting period to have lived may have been during the last quarter of the 19th-century through the first quarter of the 20th--the period 1875 to 1925. As an artist living at that time, one could have witnessed and been a part of the birth of Modern Art. This fifty-year span of time began with a mature Impressionism and saw the advent of Post-impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Symbolism, Dada, Futurism, Surrealism, and probably two or three more "isms" of lesser importance which fail to come to mind at the moment. One of the more interesting of these was Futurism and one of the more interesting artists from this movement, was the Italian painter, Gino Severini.

Severini's Ballerina in Blue (left) and his Dynamism of a Dance (right) both from 1912.
Gino Severini Self-portrait,1909
While Impressionism dealt mostly with technique; Post-impressionism and Fauvism with masses and color; Cubism with shapes; Symbolism with...well, symbols; Dada with anti-art foolishness; and Surrealism with dreams; Futurism, on the other hand, dealt with motion. (The name is a real misnomer here in that the movement had little to do with the future except, perhaps, as a matter of wishful thinking). Futurism emphasized speed, technology, youth, violence, the industrial city, and objects such as cars, planes, and trains, all of which were, first and foremost, about motion. Though Italian in origin, Futurism spread throughout all Europe in the 1920s and encompassed virtually all forms of art. Futurist artists included Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Antonio Sant'Elia, Bruno Munari, Benedetta Cappa, Luigi Russolo, and of course, Gino Severini, all of whom had as their goal the glorifying of modernity aimed at liberating Italy from the weight of its past glories. Insofar as Severini's work was concerned, his Ballerina in Blue (above, left) and his Dynamism of a Dance (above, right) both from 1912, were an attempt to suggest (as oppose to render) motion in a medium (oil on canvas) that was far from ideal.

Paris, the Seine, the Barges of the Louvre, 1908, Gino Severini
Gino Severini was born in 1883, his father a minor court official, his mother a dressmaker. Young Gino studied at the Scuola Tecnica located in his hometown of Cortona, (central) Italy, until the age of fifteen, when he was expelled from the entire Italian school system for the theft of exam papers. The following year, he moved with his mother to Rome where he first met the future Futurists, Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla while studying at the Rome Fine Art Institute. However his formal studies ended after only two years when his patron back in Cortona cut him loose claiming, "I absolutely do not understand your lack of order" (a polite way of saying "I hate your art work"). Around 1906, Severini, now twenty-three, left his mother behind and moved to Paris. His Paris, the Seine, the barges of the Louvre (above), from 1908, is one of his earliest surviving works.

The Boulevard, 1911, Gino Severini
In Paris, Severini settle in the Montmartre district where he met and studied the work of most of the great names in Modern Art--his best friend Amedeo Modigliani, who occupied a studio next to those of Raoul Dufy, Georges Braque and Suzanne Valadon. Severini likewise knew most of the Parisian avant-garde, including painters such as Jean Metzinger, Albert Gleizes, Juan Gris, and Pablo Picasso, as well as the writers Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Jules Romains, and Paul Fort. He later married Fort's daughter, Jean. Surrounded by all those struggling artist of the time, it's little wonder Severini's work did not sell well, forcing him to live on handouts from others--the stereotypical starving artist. Severini's earliest flirtation with Cubism, can be seen in his The Boulevard (above), from this period.

Lancers, 1915, Gino Severini
Gino Severini's involvement with Futurism began around 1910 when he was one of six artists to sign Boccioni's and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting. Two years later, Severini helped to organize the first Futurist exhibition outside Italy at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune, Paris. He later participated in Futurist shows around Europe and in the United States. Severini's first solo exhibitions came In 1913 at the Marlborough Gallery, London, and Der Sturm, in Berlin. Severini's attempts, mentioned earlier, to capture the movements of dancers on canvas, were likely a part of these shows. Then, with the coming of WW I, Severini went on to produce several Futurist/Cubist works such as his Lancers (above) and Red Cross Train Passing a Village (below) both from 1915.

Red Cross Train Passing a Village, 1915, Gino Severini
After the war, as the future arrived, Futurism faded. Severini divided his time between Paris and Rome, embracing Cubism to a great degree, but also in search of an individual style to call his own. In the process, he moved for a time toward a more naturalist style as seen in his harlequin portrait of his friend, Nino Franchina (below, left), dating from 1938. The harlequin had long been a fascination for Severini so it's interesting to compare his 1938 version with a Synthetic Cubist harlequin (below, right) painted in 1965 just a year before his death.

Gino Severini's Harlequin Portrait of Nino Franchina 
(left), from 1938, and his Cubist Harlequin (right), 1965.
In the years following WW II, Severini found his niche as he gradually settled upon a rather flat, Cubist style with modulated color as seen in his On the Beach (below) dating from 1945. Later, his The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the Monico (bottom), repainted in 1959, is reminiscent of a very complex version of some of the collaged paintings of Picasso and Miro as he fell in line with the then dominant Abstract Expressionist movement spreading from the U.S. to engulf Europe. Gino Severini died in Paris in 1966, at the age of eighty-two. He was buried near his birthplace in Cortona, Italy. As for Futurism, it died long before him. Perhaps Yogi Berra summed it up best: "The future ain't what it used to be."

On the Beach, 1948, Gino Severini
The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the Monico, Gino Severini.
The painting was destroyed during WW II but Severini recreated it in 1959.


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