Francisco Hayez Lot 41
Francesco Hayez (Italian, 1791-1882)
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Francesco Hayez (Italian, 1791-1882)

Il Bacio

Francesco Hayez (Italian, 1791-1882)
Il Bacio
signed and inscribed ' Hayez/Veneziano' (lower left)
oil on canvas
46 5/8 x 34 7/8 in. (118.4 x 88.6 cm.)
Painted in 1867.
The artist.
His Imperial Highness The Grand Duke Vladimir, acquired directly from the above at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, 1867.
Her Imperial Highness The Grand Duchess Helen of Russia, Athens, his daughter, by descent.
By descent to the present owner.
F. Dall’Ongaro, 'F. Hayez’, in Scritti d’Arte, Milan, 1873, pp. 24-25.
C. Boito: ‘L’ultimo dei pittori romantici’, in Nuova Antologia, xxx/3 (1891), p. 307.
C. Carrà, Pittura Metafisica, Florence, 1919, p. 281.
C. Dossi, Ravaniana, Milan, 1946, p. 343.
A. Chastel, L’Arte Italiana, Florence, 1958, vol. II, p. 288.
F. Mazzocca, Invito a Francesco Hayez, Milan, 1982, pp. 7, 153-154.
Pinacoteca di Brera: Dipinti dell'Ottocento e del Novecento, collezioni dell'Accademia e della Pinacoteca, Milan, 1993, vol. 1, pp. 353-355.
F. Mazzocca, Francesco Hayez: Catalogo ragionato, Milan, 1994, p. 335.
F. Mazzocca, Francesco Hayez : il bacio, Milan, 2003.
I. Marelli, Il 'Bacio’ di Hayez, Milan, 2015.
Paris, Exposition Universelle, 1867, no. 31.
Padua, Palazzo Zabarella, Hayez Dal Mito al Bacio, 20 September 1998-10 January 1999, no. 57.
Milan, Gallerie d’Italia Piazza Scala, Hayez, 7 November 2015 - 21 February 2016, no. 95.

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Lot Essay

Francesco Hayez’s masterpiece, Il Bacio, can be considered the epitome of Italian Romantic art. The composition, centered around a kiss between two lovers in a medieval setting, has long been regarded as a one of the most intense and sensual representations of a kiss in the history of Western art, and it is the natural and modern attitude of the couple’s embrace that contributes to the painting’s timeless appeal. This work is a symbol of the Italian Risorgimento and, thanks to its many reproductions, is truly an icon of 19th century painting and of Italian art in particular.
Born in Venice, Hayez began his artistic training in his hometown under the painter Francesco Maggiotto. After receiving a scholarship to the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice, the artist moved to Rome in 1809 to study at the Accademia di San Luca. Hayez travelled extensively within Italy, finally arriving in 1823 in Milan, where he would spend most of the remainder his life, becoming Director of the Accademia di Brera in 1850. In Milan the artist found ready acceptance among the city’s aristocratic social circles thanks to his skill at portraiture and his beautiful historical compositions. The artist's The Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet (fig 1), first exhibited in 1823, demonstrates Hayez exploring the theme of the kiss in this earlier period of his work. Later, Hayez would move away from pure historical subject matter toward subjects with more allegorical undertones, and which could be imbued with socio-political messages, as he did with Il Bacio.
Hayez painted the first version of Il Bacio, which is now preserved in the Brera Art Gallery in Milan (fig. 2), in 1859, on a commission from Earl Alfonso Maria Visconti di Saliceto. That same year, thanks to the secret treaty of Plombières between Napoleon III and the Count of Cavour, the alliance against the Austro-Hungarian Empire brought to the Second War of Independence in Italy to an end. Only two years later, the country saw the proclamation of the Reign of Italy in 1861. In response to these political changes within the country, the Esposizione Dell’Academia di Brera in September 1859 saw an increase in the number of paintings which were centered around a patriotic theme. Among these, Il Bacio in particular also featured a strong patriotic theme: the male lover was then associated with the figure of a soldier volunteering to leave his beloved behind to go and fight for his country.
The work can also be read as a symbolic representation of the alliance between Italy and France: the white drape on the steps, perhaps having just slipped off the lady’s shoulders in the moment of passion, together with the light blue of her shimmering dress, the green of the man’s mantle and the vivid red of his hose, calls to mind the colors of both the French and Italian flags, here joined in this embrace. The dramatic architecture and lighting gives the composition a theatrical feel, which both emphasizes the tension of the scene and focus the attention of the viewer completely on the two lovers. The beauty of the fabrics and the chromatic tones of the couple’s clothing also recalls the tradition of Venetian colorism that had played such an important role in Hayez’s formation as an the artist. The shadow presence of the female figure going down the stairs in the background to the left also leaves the viewer with a sense of uncertainty and mystery.
Presented at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867, where it was received with great acclaim, the present composition was originally conceived by Hayez to be part of his own collection and painted simply for his own pleasure. This perhaps explains why it was this version of the painting that was chosen to be reproduced at the base of the monument built in celebration of the artist in 1890 in the piazzetta Brera in Milan. Francesco Dall’Ongaro in 1872 described the present painting as ‘una scena toccante, piena di mistero e di affetto. […] esca da questo bacio affettuoso una generazione robusta, sincera, che pigli la vita com’ella viene, e la fecondi coll’amore del bello e del vero (‘a touching scene, imbued with mystery and affection…from this fond kiss we hope to see the start of a new generation which will be robust, sincere, and which will take life as it comes, and that will fill it with the love for beauty and truth’). Dell’Ongaro particularly wanted to emphasize the political and social impact of the present work on both the young generation of Italians at the time, and its impact on the development of Italian art as well. Il Bacio was truly a symbol of the birth of newly unified Italy.
Thanks to its large size and fine quality, Professor Fernando Mazzocca considers the present version to be of equal importance with the version in Brera. In addition to the Brera version, Hayez also produced three other versions which can be distinguished from one another through different architectural motifs, the color of the woman’s dress, and by the addition or exclusion of the white cloth on the steps.
We are grateful to Professor Fernando Mazzocca for his assistance in cataloguing the present lot.

(fig. 1) F. Hayez, Ultimo Bacio di Giulietta e Romeo, 1823. Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy.

(fig. 2) F. Hayez, The Kiss, 1859. © Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy / Bridgeman Images.


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