Angelica Kauffmann - Ritratto di fanciullo in veste di Bacco

No Longer a Terra Incognita in American Collections

“Those new regions [America] which we found and explored with the fleet…we may rightly call a New World.” Amerigo Vespucci, letter to Lorenzo di Pier Francesco de’ Medici, 1503

Since the end of the 19th century and early decades of the 20th, Americans, both private individuals and public institutions, have been avid collectors of Italian paintings and drawings. The general enthusiasm for Italian art tended to cease, however, with the two Tiepolo, Canaletto, and the elder Guardi, together with Piazzetta and Piranesi, who were viewed as the coda to the grand tradition of Italian art. Occasionally, works by other figures like Cades, Ubaldo and Gaetano Gandolfi, and Bison were used to illustrate the denouement of the Italian school.
By and large Americans considered Italian artists operative between 1790 and 1910, if they focused on them at all, the poor cousins of their American, English, and French contemporaries. On the other side of the great divide, the Futurists and Balla as a Futurist and not a Divisionist, were enthusiastically collected. Their popularity most likely stemmed from their avant garde aesthetic linked to Cubism and the controversial 1913 Armory Show (International Exhibition of Contemporary Art) in New York City, despite the fact that the Futurists ironically were omitted from this seminal exhibition. There are, of course, other  exceptions to the prevailing rule, such as Morandi, whose works American have always prized. Nevertheless, earlier in the 20th century, American interest in Italian art bracketed, like book ends, the period represented by the classicizing and academic examples in this exhibit at the Galleria Carlo Virgilio.
Naturally, there are exceptions to this generalization, and one could point to incidental jewels or sporadic caches of works in American collections. But even these were under appreciated. It was during the 1950s that scholars, collectors, and museum personnel began to explore this terra incognita more fully. The result is that today American collecting of Italian art no longer stops with Mauro Gandolfi and jump starts with Balla.

It is no wonder that the art of the period in question was not more accessible to Americans.  In post-Napoleonic times, the Italic peninsula was again divided regionally, fraught with political instability lasting until after Italy’s unification as a country in 1870. Works by most Italian artists remained in regional contexts, widely unknown on the international art scene. Further, many artists were engaged in Risorgimento struggles to the detriment of their artistic careers. Few traveled, although there were exceptions like Costa, an impassioned patriot and revolutionary macchiaolo, who from mid-century encouraged an open door policy and worked closely with English artists in the Roman Compagna, later traveling to Paris and London where he continued to exhibit. Costa also campaigned for the artistic renewal of Rome, which despite political upheaval was an exciting artistic center until Paris usurped its position in mid-century. In the wake of the Grand Tour phenomenon, Rome had remained a place stimulated by international exchanges intimated in the works of foreign artists. It was a veritable melting pot where Ingres and Wicar worked alongside Palagi, Tischbein, and Angelica Kauffmann to reveal the importance of the academically trained artist who formed the backbone of artistic production in Italy. Again at end of the century, after unification and with the emphasis on “Roma capitale”, Rome became a Mecca for artists. A case in point is Vedder, who settled permanently in the Eternal City in 1867, dying there in 1912. His fin de siècle blend of Symbolism, “Liberty” style, and mysticism is claimed by Americans and Italians alike.

Giovanni Piancastelli – a painter who attended the Accademia di San Luca and who was in the service of the Borghese family, becoming Director of the Museo and the Galleria Borghese when the collection was acquired by the state in 1899 – played a critical role in the dissemination of Italian drawings of this period in the United States. Although he amassed a vast compilation of Italian drawings from every period, he was an avid collector of the epoch in question. The fate of his collection, some of which remains in Italy (i.e., in Forl), occupied a pivotal place in the history of American collecting.

Other early exceptions to the rule about Americans not collecting Italian art of this period were the Hewitt sisters, Sarah and Eleanor, of New York City. Through their agent, the novelist E. Marion Campbell, they purchased approximately 3,620 drawings from Piancastelli in 1901, selecting those most suitable for the museum of decorative arts and architecture which they planned (the Cooper-Hewitt Museum). One of the large blocks of drawings they acquired were the c. 1,000 sheets by the wonderfully inventive artist Giani and members of his circle.

Another American collector linked to Piancastelli was Mary Brandegee, who together with her husband Edward D. Brandegee of Brookline, Massachusetts, purchased around 8,663 drawings in 1904. They acquired those which the Hewitts did not deem appropriate to their mission. In 1938 the Brandegee estate offered the Cooper-Hewitt the option to acquire the majority of its holdings (c. 8,200 sheets) in order to reunite the Piancastelli Collection.
This group of approximately 12,457 drawings now forms the nucleus of the drawing collection of The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution in New York. Nonetheless, the famous MB collectors mark is encountered on large numbers of drawings in other collections, such as Bibiena sheets formerly belonging to Janos Scholz, and other works still in circulation on the market.

Scholz, another American (Hungarian by birth) who collected this period, is thought to have owned at least 1,000 drawings with a Brandegee provenance gathered during the middle decades of the Novecento. His interest in the period sprang from his enthusiasm for Settecento Italian drawing and an insatiable interest and curiosity in expanding his horizons.
Representing a logical progression in taste, neoclassical Italian art, abutting the late Settecento, was the first segment to be unanimously embraced by scholars, collectors, and the public at large. Its firm acceptance into the canon of collecting resulted from several exhibitions in the 1960s and 1970s that stressed the international character of Neoclassicism, as seen in works by Tofanelli and Kauffmann.

Nearly all Americans who have collected Italian art of the period have fallen under the spell of Italy, especially that of Rome with its history and archaeology, its mythology and literature, and its endless beauty and intellectual treasures. During the 1950s much of the collecting activity stemmed from a group of scholars and museum people who were centered at the American Academy in Rome. One of the most influential figures was Anthony M. Clark, who first at the Rhode Island School of Design, then at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and later at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, pushed the boundaries of collecting further into the 19th century, acquiring capolavori for his institutions and illuminating works for his own collection. John Maxon of the Art Institute of Chicago was another individual who used the late 18th-century as a diving board to enter the waters of the subsequent century for his institution and his own collection.

In turn, these individuals encouraged other collectors, scholars, and students toward a later taste. Like dropping a pebble into a pool, their enthusiasm spread to their acquaintances in ever widening circles. For example, Frederick Cummings, as director of the Detroit Institute of Art and as a private individual, made pioneering acquisitions. Museum organized exhibitions and published catalogues in English on the era during the 1970s, 1980s (one addressing drawings of the period opened at the National Gallery of Art and another on the Macchiaioli was held at U.C.L.A.), and 1990s (one on Italian painting began at the Walters Art Museum), continuing to open up the field for U.S. collectors. To date, there have been few monographic exhibitions, although the Stanford University Museum of Art organized one on Duranti in 1975, and commercial galleries have mounted a handful, such as on Sartorio (1970), Hirémy-Hirshl (1984), and Gemito (2000).

Scratch the surface of the history of U.S. collecting, and it would be apparent that museums and private collectors had acquired works from the period since the latter 19th century, long before 1950. Only a few artists were collected consistently, such as Pinelli, the illustrator and inveterate chronicler of Roman life. One encounters examples by Pinelli everywhere, for example in a group of early preparatory drawings in the E.B. Crocker Museum in Sacramento, acquired in 1871. Many travelers to Italy purchased works that reminded them of their travels. A case in point is Catherine Lorillard Wolfe, who in 1887 donated several of these watercolours to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while a large group of vedute and travel-oriented works are in The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum. Before the 1920s, William F.E. Gurley and Leonora Hall Gurley of Chicago collected late 18th-century Italian art, while in the 1960s Mrs. George B. Young also gave drawings to Art Institute of Chicago. Frank Jewett Mather donated others to The Art Museum, Princeton University. A survey of American institutions reveals Ottocento works throughout the country, from Boston and Baltimore (notably the Robert Gilmor Collection) to Dayton and San Francisco (a stunning oil sketch by Favretto, acquired in the 1950s). In addition, many collections generally rich in 19th-century art, like the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute or The Brooklyn Museum, by extension also own Italian examples from the era. In addition, museums connected with academically oriented art schools, like RISD and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts, should be mentioned. Prior to the 1950s, however, many of these acquisitions were gifts or bequests, and in general these holdings can be best characterized as “episodic.”

Among the 20th-century private collectors in the vanguard of this interest are several singular categories of individuals who did not just extend their interest in Settecento art. The first is comprised of Italo-Americans who maintained connections with their Italian heritage via art. A noteworthy case is the heir of a family who once owned hundreds of works by Minardi. Equally fascinating are the descendants of Arturo Toscanini who possess works of art, most from the last half of the Ottocento, which once belonged to the famous conductor. The second category includes collectors, like Benjamin Sonnenberg, who purchased works by Ottocento artists who are associated with other schools, such as Boldini, a figure long included in the de rigeurer list to own due to his lengthy Parisian career.

Currently, a group of living collectors are seriously acquiring Italian art of the period. Some focus only on 18th-century and neoclassical art; the majority collect art of some part of the period under consideraton from various schools. Yet few collectors still single out the Italian school of this period with the goal of gathering fine examples by all available artists.
Institutions, dependent on curator taste and mission, are now actively acquiring major Ottocento works by purchase rather than primarily by gift, resulting in a feeling that the period is coming of age. In recent decades Jacob Bean of the Metropolitan Museum of Art branched into the early Ottocento. The constellation of museums making acquisitions in the area includes the National Gallery of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the recipients of Clark’s private collection. Recently, the J. Paul Getty Museum acquired in auction the pastel of 1877 by Michetti inscribed “Scherzo,” while the Yale Art Museum purchased a large neoclassical sheet by Pinelli. A more specifically oriented acquisition is the large historical drawing of Cincinnatus funded by the Cincinnatus Society for the Cincinnati Museum of Art. Nevertheless, donors continue to offer works by Italian nineteenth-century artists to museums in greater numbers, such as in the bequest of Bernice Davidson to the Fogg Art Museum.

These impressionistic comments only begin to suggest the complex paths taken by American collectors who are continuing to discover this new world of Italian art.

di Roberta J. M. Olson

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Firenze, 1987

Sisi-Spalletti 1994
C.Sisi – E.Spalletti
La cultura artistica a Siena nell’Ottocento
Siena, 1994

Soria 1970
R.Soria
Elihu Vedder, american visionary artist in Rome
Rutheford, 1970

Spadini 1973
P.Spadini
Giulio Aristide Sartorio
catalogo della mostra
Galleria Emporio Floreale
Roma, 1973

Spadini 1982
P.Spadini
Opere inedite di Giulio Bargellini: oli – pastelli – carboncini – studi di architetture e progetti per mosaici dal 1890 al 1936
Galleria dell’Emporio Floreale
Roma, 1982

Spalletti 1989
E.Spalletti
Qualche riflessione sugli inizi romantici di Giuseppe Bezzuoli
in Artista
1989 – pp. 140-153

Spalletti 1990
E.Spalletti
La pittura dell’Ottocento in Toscana, in La pittura in Italia. L’Ottocento
a cura di E. Castelnuovo
Milano, 1990 – vol. I, 288-366

Susinno 1982
Disegni di Tommaso Minardi (1787-1871)
catalogo della mostra a cura di S.Susinno
Roma, 1982

Susinno 1990
S.Susinno
La pittura a Roma nella prima metà dell’Ottocento
in La pittura in Italia. L’Ottocento, a cura di E. Castelnuovo
Milano, 1990 – vol. I, 399-431

Susinno 2000
S.Susinno
Guy Head, scheda in Æqua potestas. Le arti in gara a Roma nel Settecento
catalogo della mostra a cura di A.Cipriani
Roma, 2000 – pp.42-43

Thieme-Becker 1936
U. Thieme-F. Becker
Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, vol. XXX
Leipzig, 1936

Tinterow-Conisbee 1999
Portraits by Ingres. Image of an Epoch
edited by G.Tinterow and P.Conisbee
New York, 1999

Tintori 1966
U.Tintori
Francesco Belluomini, in Dizionario Biografico degli Italiani, vol.VIII
Roma, 1966 – pp.5-6

Träger 1996
S. Träger
Carl Ludwig Frommel
in The Dictionary of Art, London-New York, vol. 11
London-New York, 1996 – p. 802

Trenta 1822
[T.Trenta]
Notizie di pittori, scultori e architetti lucchesi per servire alla storia delle belle arti ne’ secoli XVII, e XVIII
in [Id.], Memorie e documenti per servire all’istoria del ducato di Lucca, T. VIII

Valentiner 1992
G.Valentiner
Scenebilleder: Wilhelm Marstrand
København, 1992

Valentiner 1992(2)
Wilhelm Marstrand
catalogo della mostra a cura di G.Valentiner
Nivå, 1992

Vedder 1979
Perceptions and Evocations: the art of Elihu Vedder
introduzione di R.Soria e testi di J.C.Taylor, J.Dillenberger, R.Murray
Washington D. C. 1979

Vigne 1995
G.Vigne
Dessins d’Ingres. Catalogue raisonnée des dessins du musée de Montauban
Paris, 1995

Vogel 1925
J.Vogel
Otto Greiner
Bielefeld-Leipzig, 1925

Vollmer 1939
H.Vollmer
Johann Friedrich August Tischebein
in U.Thieme-F.Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler
Leipzig, 1939 – vol. 33, pp. 207-209

Zucchi 1998
A.Zucchi
La Memoria delle pitture di Angelica Kauffmann
a cura di C.Knight
Roma-Londra, 1998