Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988)
Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988)

Untitled (Fachada)

Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988)
Untitled (Fachada)
signed 'A Volpi' (on the reverse)
tempera on canvas
37 x 26 ¾ in. (94 x 68 cm.)
Painted circa 1970.
Acquired directly from the artist (early 1970s).
By descent to the current owner
Post lot text
1 Willys de Castro, “Volpi pinta vôlpis,” exh. cat. (São Paulo: Galeria São Luiz, 1960), n.p.
2 Lucrecia Zappi, “Alfredo Volpi: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo,” Artforum International 45, no. 2 (October 2006): 273.
3 Mário Pedrosa, quoted in Olívio Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor (São Paulo: Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo, 2006), 258.
4 Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor, 262.
5 Alfredo Volpi, quoted in Tavares de Araújo, Volpi: a música da cor, 260.

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

This work is registered in the archives of the Instituto Alfredo Volpi de Arte Moderna under IAVAM 3202.
We are grateful to the Cultural Support of Instituto Alfredo Volpi de Arte Moderna for their assistance cataloguing this work.
“Volpi paints volpis,” began Willys de Castro, writing on the occasion of Volpi’s solo exhibition at Galeria de Arte São Luiz in 1960. In his oft-cited testament to Volpi’s independence and originality, de Castro praised his friend’s magnanimous translation and articulation of vivência—total life-experience—through his use of color, above all, in paintings that sensitively resolved “the illogical mystery of the color of form and the form of color.”1
Volpi’s practice bridged Brazil’s avant-garde movements of the 1950s and 1960s, including de Castro’s Neoconcretism, and the popular iconography of his working-class background. The son of Italian immigrants, he trained as a bookbinder and painter-decorator before finding success late in his career. Self-taught, he worked through the 1930s in the company of São Paulo’s Grupo Santa Helena, a loose affiliation of modern-minded artists whose paintings emphasized proletarian themes treated with a subdued, pictorial realism. His work began to shed its figurative elements by the mid-1940s as he came into contact with the emerging concretistas, for whom his clean geometries and use of primary colors formed a suggestive point of departure. In his paradigmatic paintings of the following decades, Volpi cultivated an intuitive and idiosyncratic practice within the rubric of “geometria sensível,” transforming everyday motifs—façades, flags, arches, sails—into simplified geometric shapes.
A superb colorist, Volpi achieved a clear, luminous quality of space and tone through his use of the traditional egg tempera technique, in which he allowed his brushstrokes to remain clearly visible on the canvas. “Here the brushwork brings materiality to the surface,” the writer Lucrecia Zappi has observed. “Rather than exploring color as an optical phenomenon, it stands out as a natural element. To this end, tempera becomes essential in his work, allowing the pigment to breathe. That ancient medium projects Volpi into the past, creating a continuity between the tradition of Giotto’s skies and Paolo Uccello’s Renaissance standards and the new spatiality of modernism.”2 Volpi traveled to France and Italy for six months in 1950—a formative trip that coincided with his participation in the XXV Venice Biennale—and reportedly visited Giotto’s magnificent fresco cycle at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua sixteen times during his stay. He began to paint increasingly abstracted façades during this time, and their tonal passages and cadenced, chromatic euphoria point suggestively to the brilliant pigments and surface decorations—no less the artisanal craft—of the late medieval and early Renaissance art that he encountered abroad.
Volpi’s first façades date to the late 1940s, but the series crystallized over the 1950s as he experimented with different geometric forms and permutations of color. Declaring the early façades “a first-rate artistic event,” critic Mário Pedrosa commended the “perfectly rendered symbiosis” of their “rigorous abstract composition involving the lyricism of [the] vivid, singing colors of small-town working-class homes,” deeming them “an original creation within the overall contemporary painting.”3 In these now iconic works, Volpi distilled ready-made, architectural shapes—doors, windows, and the traditional feast flags of São João—into all-over abstractions. The present Untitled (Fachada) displays the chromatic complexity most characteristic of his work from the 1960s and 1970s. “These late façades come forth as the most colorful in his entire production,” curator Olívio Tavares de Araújo has observed. “All hues taken into account, the façades may boast even 16 colors so closely integrated that, at first sight, the viewer does not realize that actually there are more than six or eight colors.”4
“My problem is one of form, line, and color,” Volpi liked to say, and his façades reveal a deep engagement with the tones, textures, and materiality of color.5 Broad passages of salmon pink and pale blue describe the upper story of the present work, framing three narrow, darkened windows; the scheme is reversed below, with dense applications of green and cobalt blue surrounding white and pink portals. The yellow ocher of the ground is echoed in two blue-and-yellow transoms whose relative placement—along a diagonal and beside inverse arrangements of pink-and-green rectangles— brings visual coherence and dynamism to the façade. Wide, rhythmic brushstrokes inscribe a painterly architectonics, luminescent and asymmetric, to this residential façade, transforming it into a radiant abstraction of color.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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