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Please note that the present lot has been requested for the exhibition Severini. La danza (Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 25 May-28 October 2001).
FROM FUTURISM TO ABSTRACTION: GINO SEVERINI'S ARTISTIC JOURNEY
It would seem almost impossible to summarise the complex and diverse artistic journey of Gino Severini (Cortona 1883 - Paris 1966) through such a highly selective group of pictures, and yet, in many ways, the four works presented in this catalogue (lots 2, 4, 5, 8), are an excellent representation of his production.
After his adventurous beginnings amongst his friends and fellow Futurists Boccioni, Balla, Carrà, Sironi, around 1913 Severini began what he called "a period of more intense abstraction". In his canvases of this time, light is used to generate form and colour simultaneously. His paintings abandon the modern themes of his first Futurist period (such as the dancers lit by the flashes of the stage set; the city in its continuous, frenetic movement), and focus on pure dynamic impulses, separated from any intention of realistic representation. The beloved theme of the dance implies, now, by analogical association, cosmic connotations: the works of this deeply inspired series look like an explosion of brushstrokes, heavy with colour and light, always generating and dividing geometrical, intertwined volumes. The picture becomes a completely abstract "dance of light". Expansion centrifuge de la lumière (lot 2) is an exemplary work from this group: in it, the explosion of the light is rendered through a composition of bright prisms, in continuous movement and quick metamorphosis.
1916 was a pivotal year in the artist's long career, marking the artist's final abandonment of Futurism, to which Severini would return only in his late years, with very original and personal contributions. In 1916, Severini embraced Cubism, which he saw as the only "modern" system for a dynamic representation of reality. He accepted Cubism as a science, not ruled by hazard, but founded on rational structures and the universal authority of geometry. From his theoretical reflections and his new practice, a rich series of new works springs, of which Natura morta of 1916 (lot 4) is an inspiring example. Overcoming the dynamic subjects of the Futurist period, Severini naturally fell for the still-life, and apart from the occasional portrait, particularly of his wife Jeanne Fort, it is these his art concentrates on at this time. In the present work, as in other works of the series executed before 1918, the intimate dimension of the domestic household is presented with a great attention to detail. The superimpositions and the constant, controlled, shiftings of chromatic bands introduce in the painting a subtle dynamism, and an almost a rythmic "film sequence" of form that leads the eye from the top to the bottom. The colour, to which the artist entrusts the lyrical key of the painting, is played down with low tones, always elegantly tuned: from the green and to the greys, to the abstract explosion of gold.
After the rigour and the calculated formalism of the 1920s, after the "magic realism" of the 1930s in Paris, the early 1940s were marked by Severini's return to Italy, and a period of productive abandonment to painting, as if he had freed his art of any intellectualistic burden. Until 1946, when he returned to France, Severini painted works that were dominated by a sense of his delight in the freedom of expression, both their composition and colour. These works stand in direct contrast to a world which was at the time threatened by the dark ghosts of the war. In sympathy with his old Cubist companions, particularly with Picasso and Braque, Severini adopted some geometrical aspects of Cubism, which he stripped of all rigour and strengthened with a chromatic richness, closer to the explosion of colour of Matisse. Concentrating on still-lifes, Severini painted in his studio, where the objects of everyday life (fruit-dishes, jugs, musical instruments, and sometimes game) are presented in rhythmically rich compositions and with a great decorative freshness. In Natura morta con germano (lot 8) of 1942, some familiar presences fill the intimate space of the household, distributed on the perspective line of the table as if they were on a domestic stage. The whole composition is attuned to two dominant chromatic notes: the cold blue hues of the fruit-dish and the wall-paper, and the hot, earthy nuances of the table, wild-duck, vase, and bottles. From the subtle equilibrium and constant connection of the colours, the work gains superb balance and an exquisite musicality.
The beginning of a new decade in the tough years following the war represented a fresh start for the artist. Severini instigated a new reflection upon painting and its stylistical instruments. While Italy rediscovered its "bigs" of the Futurist avant-garde in the 1950 Venice Biennale and the great tradition of American collectionism turned its eyes on Futurism, Severini was again in France, confronting the works of the Ecole de Paris. In his new series of works that he began in 1950, the artist took his personal quest into the language of Cubism to a new level of maturity. His long, coherent artistic path culminated in works of extraordinary richness and subtlety of form, that was unknown to many neo-Cubists of the time. L' Eté (lot 5) of 1951 is a work created out of the renewed strenghts of a "pictorial syntax" which takes the image to the boundaries of abstraction. The forms, cast by the colour laid down à plat, reach in this mature phase a level of unprecedented lightness and unique dynamism.
THE PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE AMERICAN COLLECTOR