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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Eliseu Visconti

Maternity, 1906, Eliseu Visconti (possibly Mrs. Visconti nursing in a Paris Park).
When we think about, or read about a country's exports, we invariably think in terms of some valuable raw material or some manufactured item, either exclusive to that country of seldom manufactured elsewhere. What we don't think about are what I'll call (for lack of a better term) intangible exports. Those usually involve technology, philosophies, new ideas, music, entertainment, literature, art, and individuals trained in these various disciplines. For several hundred years, roughly from the end of the Baroque period in art in the early 1700s, as Italian influences ebbed to be replace by those of the French, Paris, became the primary world source of such intangible exports. As with all exports, that's not to say France didn't have competition from other such centers of higher learning such as Cambridge, The Hague, Rome, of course, Utrecht, Munich, and St. Petersburg, but Paris was one of the first to consolidate all their fine arts disciplines into a single, unified, "manufacturing" entity, the Academie des Beaux-Arts, in 1816.

Duckling Study, 1909, Eliseu Visconti
During the previous hundred years and from then on until the Germans goose-stepped down the Champs-Elysees in June, 1941, would-be artists from all over the world flocked to Paris for their training and to try to make a name for themselves. Though Academic admission standards were high, obtaining schooling was the easy part as compared to eking out a living as an artist in Paris. There were simply too damned many of them. So, these budding young artists went back home, essentially becoming "cargo containers" for France's second most important export (after wine)--an art education. The Italian-born painter, Eliseu Visconti was one such container.

Though primarily a painter of Impressionist figures and landscapes, Visconti
demonstrated an amazing flair for painting portraits--especially of himself.
Eliseu Visconti, despite his birth in the Salerno area south of Rome in 1866, came to Paris around 1892, not from Italy, but from Brazil where he'd lived since about the age of seven. There he'd first studied to be a musician but showed much more talent and affinity for painting and drawing. So, while still in high school, young Eliseu began simultaneously taking classes at the Brazilian Imperial Academy where, in 1888, he received a gold medal for his work. His Steer (bottom) from 1885. was one such piece from this period. While still in his mid-twenties, Visconti received another prize, a full scholarship allowing him to go sailing off to Paris to begin what we might term his "graduate studies" in art. Although his initial training had been academic in nature as filtered through his Brazilian instructors, upon arriving in Paris, Visconti quickly embraced the prevailing painting style, the Bohemian lifestyle, and all the other aspects of Impressionism from color theory, to composition, and painting techniques. His Maternity (top) from 1906 demonstrates his intense devotion to Impressionism. This is especially noticeable in the stylistic transition seen from his early self-portraits (above) to those of his mature later years.

In the Summer (or Girl with a Fan), Eliseu Visconti, possibly his daughter
in that he frequently used his wife and children as models.
Portrait of Julinho (a nephew)
ca. 1927, Eliseu Visconti
Visconti returned from Paris after winning a silver medal at the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition, bringing Impressionism back to Brazil with him while having to leave his former model and the love of his life (later his wife), the French-born (and pregnant) Louise Palombe. While in Paris Visconti had picked up on the French love of the nude figure (above) and the newly minted French Art Nouveau style as well, both of which he took back to Rio de Janeiro. So successful was he in importing French design influences that he won a competition for a lucrative contract designing Brazilian postage stamps. Then in 1904, Visconti came away from the St. Louis International Exposition with a gold medal, the only Latin American artist to be so honored. This allowed him to return to Paris, in 1905, this time bringing Louise, and their daughter, Yvonne, back with them when he returned to Brazil the following year.

As the father of a daughter and three sons, Visconti's oldest, Tobias,
was very often the subject of his father's portraits.
My Family, 1919. Eliseu Visconti
was a devoted husband and father.
In returning, Visconti accepted a position teaching at the same school from which he graduated, where he continued until 1913. His son, Tobias (above) and a younger son were both born during this period. Such was Visconti's reputation in rendering large scale theater decorations that he was obliged to split his time between work in Paris and more work, as well as his growing family in Brazil (right). On one trip to Paris in 1909, he married Louise shortly before their second child, Tobias (above) was born. However as war tensions in Europe grew more explosive, Visconti's constant travels back and forth between Paris and Brazil became problematical with the growing threat of German submarines in and around French waters. In 1916 he returned to Paris where he remained until 1920, well after the war. It would be the last time he or his family saw Paris. Visconti's list of prestigious com-missions, intimate portraits, and a multitude of awards is far to long to even mention. In July, 1944, Visconti was the victim a robbery in his studio. He was found unconscious, wounded in the head, and without belongings--his watch, identity documents, and money. For two months the artist remained in agony, on artificial respiration. Then, surprisingly, he recovered...for about three weeks, lucid, full of ideas and plans, restless and eager for new experiences, repeating all the time: "I was born again! Now am I going to start painting, you see!" The resurrection, however, was short-lived. Following a relapse, Eliseu Visconti died in October, 1944, at the age of seventy-eight, the story of a young Italian boy who imported French art influences to Brazil...again and again.

Self-portrait in Three Poses, 1938, Eliseu Visconti.
His wife, Louise, is pictured in the upper-right corner.
Steer, 1885, Eliseu Visconti--one of his earliest paintings.


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