Angelo Morbelli (fig. 1) can be considered one of the six leading exponents of Italian Divisionism together with Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, Giovanni Segantini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Gaetano Previati and Emilio Longoni. Despite the often cited parallels with French Neo-Impressionism, in particular with Pointillism, Divisionism developed in Milan quite independently. Divisionism it’s characterized by a meticulous study of the optical effects and the luminosity of colour on canvas itself, which has a profoundly textural element due to the technique used. Thus, when touches of paint are applied side by side to the canvas 'divisionistically' as pure unmixed colour, the colours achieve greater luminosity and brilliance in the eye of the spectator. This movement, that bears strong symbolist connotations, can also be seen as socially charged, as its 'members’ believed in artistic creation as a way to reach social improvement and redemption. All these elements together laid the foundations for the birth of Futurism.
Morbelli studied at the Accademia di Brera in Milan from 1867 to 1876 under Raffaele Casnedi and Giuseppe Bertini. By the early 1890s, under the influence of Segantini and Previati, Morbelli started exploring the new technique, characterised by a lighter palette and a more painterly finish, which eventually led him to an intensive study of the colour theory principles, necessary to the mastery of Divisionism.
Painted between 1915 and 1919, the present late work depicts a breath-taking view of Lake Maggiore seen from a sunny terrace. The extraordinary luminosity of the present work is clearly related to Morbelli's experiments with en plein air painting in the late 1880s. The divisionist technique perfectly reproduces the shimmering light of a hot summer day. The rigour of the brushstrokes and the incredible attention and research in the rendering of light enabled the artist to take full control of the view and to convey feelings and emotions.
The power of this composition derives from the exceptional use of perspective, which is the result of several studies carried out by the artist with the aid of photography
Lake Maggiore, one of the most fashionable holiday resorts at the beginning of the 20th Century, was a recurring and dear subject to the painter. It was in 1915 that Morbelli painted his famous composition Donna sul Lago Maggiore (1915, Fondazione Cariplo, Milan), capturing an elegant lady enjoying and relaxing during a boat ride on the Lake.
No apparent human presence, typical of the artist’s late works, gives the painting an almost metaphysical connotation, charging the scene with mysticism. A sense of tranquillity and meditation pervades the scene, which thus seems to be suspended in a timeless space. Being one of the artist’s last composition before his death we can also find a proper sense of inward reflection in the present work.
A similar feeling can be perceived in another late work by the artist, Il Telegramma (fig. 2), painted in 1917. There, as is the present composition, the absence of human presence dominates the work and enhances the contrast between the turmoil created by the telegram just received and the calm and peaceful marine view.