I am leaving the final part of My Daily Art Display’s look at the life of Paul Gaugin until my next blog and thought I would feature a painting I came across the other day when I was watching an art/ travelogue/cooking programme, which looked at the artistic treasures of the Sicily whilst the presenters sampled the local dishes. In the first of three programmes they visited Palermo and in one section we were shown the manic hustle and bustle of La Vucciria, the popular market of the town. When I was researching this blog I came across a description of this marketplace given by a resident of the town.
“…There are no words in any language to accurately describe this place. It is a mix of heaven and hell in one place! The mix of smells and people and cultures all in one market. You can glimpse into the life of the real people of the city. I go there almost every day because I can’t get enough…”
What fascinated me the most about the market was a painting of it by one of Sicily’s most famous artists, Renato Guttuso, and so I have made him my artist of the day and his painting simply entitled La Vucciria the featured painting for today’s blog.
Renato Guttuso was born on 26 December 1911 at Bagheria, a small town on the north west coast of Sicily, some ten kilometres east of Palermo. His father Gioacchino was a land-surveyor and also an amateur watercolourist. His mother was Giuseppina d’Amico. Probably due to his father, Guttuso learnt to paint at a very early age. At the age of thirteen he began signing and dating his paintings and drawings which at the time were, in the main, copies of nineteenth century landscapes. He went to high school in Palermo and then on to the university, where he studied European art, from Courbet to Van Goghand to Picasso.
In 1931, when he was twenty years of age he had two of his paintings accepted for the Prima Quadriennale d’Arte Nazionale in Rome and this gave him the chance to attend the exhibition and see the works of the greatest Italian artists. The following year his works appeared in an exhibition in Milan. To supplement his income as a painter he worked as a picture restorer for the Picture Gallery of Perugia and the Borghese Gallery in Rome. He was also interested in commenting and writing articles on art and the trends of modern art. However the first article he contributed to the left-wing Palermo newspaper, L’Ora, fell foul of Fascist censorship.
In 1935 Guttuso did his military service in Milan and two years later went to live in Rome where he set up his studio and had his first solo exhibition. Guttuso kept producing outstanding works: nudes, landscapes, still lifes. In 1941 he produced one of his most famous paintings entitled Crocifissione(Crucifixion), which is now looked upon as one of the most relevant masterpieces of the Twentieth Century. He explained the meaning of the work:
: “… this is a time of war. I wish to paint the torment of Christ as a contemporary scene … as a symbol of all those who, because of their ideas, endure outrage, imprisonment and torment”.
This controversial painting for which he is probably best remembered, denounced the horrors of the war under a religious guise. His depiction of one of the most famous Christian events provoked widespread controversy. The Vatican authorities even issued an edict forbidding the religious to look at the canvas.
In 1942 Gutusso turned his hand to stage design for musicals, creating both scenery and costumes for performances at the Teatro della Arte in Rome. During the war Gutusso moved out of the capital city and joined the Resistance movement which was strongly opposed to fascism. At the end of the war, he visited Picasso in Paris and this was to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship between the two painters. He, along with some other like-minded artists, founded the “Fronte Nuovo delle Arti’ (New Arts Front), a group of politically aware artists who aimed at making up for those European artistic experiences whose circulation in Italy had been prevented by Fascism. Social themes and scenes of everyday life prevailed in his painting. In 1950 Guttuso was awarded the World Council of Peace prize in Warsaw, and in the same year his first one-man exhibition was held in London. Large-scale paintings of his were regularly shown at the Venice Biennale, always stimulating debates and controversies. In 1972, Guttuso was awarded the Lenin Prize at the time of his exhibition at the Art Academy in Moscow. The following year Guttuso selected a relevant collection of works, both his own and by other artists, which would form the core of the future municipal art gallery of Bagheria. In 1976 he was elected a Senator of the Republic for the Italian Communist Party, a political party he had been an active member since joining in 1937,
Guttuso died on 18 January 1987, leaving major works to the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Rome. He had previously entrusted other works together with a rich collection of documents to the Museum in his native town of Bagheria which had been dedicated to him. This museum, Museo Guttuso, which is housed in the 18th century Villa Cattolica, owns the largest collection of his paintings, drawings and graphics.
And so to the painting I am featuring today, La Vucciria by Renato Guttuso which he completed in 1974 and can be found in Palermo’s Palazzo Steri. It is a sort of folk art type of painting. When I watched the TV programme and the part which looked at La Vucirria, nothing seems to have changed in almost forty years since the artist depicted it in his painting. The naked electrical lights dangling over head still remained. The Sicilian word vucciria means “confusion” and we can recognise the aptness of that name in the painting. Look at the scene. Can you imagine the noise and smells that emanate from this market as the vendors scream out descriptive delights of their precious products? The many fish stalls have to be kept constantly wet to maintain freshness and the floor around these areas are never dry. The closeness of the market to the port ensures the freshness of the fish and this is depicted by the artist as we see them curled, still in rigor mortis. The painting is a rich and colourful, some would say gaudy, portrayal of life in the market. The colours are so vibrant and pulsating.
There is verticality about the painting as the path between stalls moves almost in an upward direction through the centre of the painting to the top. This is Sicily and, as we know, Sicily is synonymous with the Mafia and maybe there is a dark side to the painting. Observe either side of the woman in white who has her back to us. To her left there is the fish seller. Note how he looks across at the cheese seller to the right of the woman. Notice how they scowl at each other. The fishmonger grasps the swordfish almost as if he is grabbing hold of a blade. If one looks closely at the cheese seller there is evidence of a pentimento, which is where there is evidence in the form of traces of previous work that shows us that the artist has changed his mind as to the composition whilst he was in the process of painting. The word actually derives from theItalian word pentirsi, which means “to repent”. It is thought that the partly hidden hand of the cheese seller once was painted with a knife in it. Are we witnessing a brewing vendetta between the two men? Does the woman in white have anything to do with the bad feeling? Are the two vendors vying to be her lover? The vertical line through the centre of the painting was looked upon as the vertical line of life and the horizontal line of sight between the warring cheese seller and the fishmonger was looked upon as the horizontal line of death and of course the intersection of the two lines form a cross.
Renato Getups was deeply anti-fascist and an ardent communist all his life. He was also anti-Mafia and so it was ironic that in 2009 when a leading mafia financier, Beniamino Zappy, was arrested and had his art collection confiscated there were many paintings by Gattuso. A spokesman for the anti-Mafia investigators said, with a touch of humour, of Zappy:
”…He is part of a criminal organization, the Mafia, but