A first work by Giuseppe Abbati for the Metropolitan

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26/5/23 - Acquisition - New-York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art - The Metropolitan Museum’s renowned collection of European paintings has been enriched with its first work by Giuseppe Abbati, one of the leading exponents of the Macchiaioli. Acquired from the Galleria Ponti in Rome, thanks to the support of the Friends of European Paintings Gifts, the small panel has been placed in one of the four rooms dedicated to the presentation of the rich collection of works by Edgar Degas, who was one of the foreign artists who visited Florence and frequented the Macchiaioli.

Giuseppe Abbati (1836-1868)
A man sitting and sleeping, c. 1865
Oil on panel - 25.8 × 12.2 cm
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art
See the image in its page

An Italian painting movement largely unknown outside its borders, the Macchiaioli were previously represented at the Metropolitan only by a group of around ten engravings by Giovanni Fattori, another of its eminent members, along with Vito d’Ancona, Silvestro Lega, Diego Martelli and Telemaco Signorini. This limited corpus is supplemented by some of the surviving paintings by the American painter Elihu Vedder and Giovanni Boldini, both of whom had a lasting influence on the Florentine painters they frequented in the late 1850s and early 1860s respectively.

Signed lower left with the artist’s monogram, the panel would have been executed around 1865. Characteristic of Abbati’s late period, marked by strongly contrasting colours, it is also perfectly representative of the art of the Macchiaioli, a small format with an apparent support brushed with "spots" - macchia in the singular - "placed broadly to set the forms by contrasting values without concern for detail or model", thus defined by Isabelle Julia and Caterina Zappia in an essay in the catalogue of the exhibition devoted to the Italian movement at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris in 2013 (see article). Yet, as Asher Miller, assistant curator in the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of European Paintings and a specialist in nineteenth-century art, points out in his detailed note, however effete the figure and features may seem, Sitting and Sleeping Man would fall within the genre of portraiture, unusual for the Macchiaioli.

The small genre scene in the open air, holding back a siesta in the sun, is thought to represent the poet Renato Fucini, a close friend of Giovanni Fattori and of the Macchiaioli’s art critic and patron Diego Martelli, whose portrait by Degas in the National Galleries of Scotland is currently on show in the Manet/Degas exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay (article to follow). This identification, put forward by several authors since the 1970s, is based on a comparison of the panel model with two portraits of the poet by Eugenio Cecconi, a drawing, Renato Fucini Asleep, kept at the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi in Florence, and a painting in a private collection, L’Homme au chapeau, where the poet is awake but wearing an identical hat. The panel and the latter painting may have been executed together during the same posing session.

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