Luigi Lucioni (1900-1988)
Supremely independent and amazingly dexterous, Luigi Lucioni can be appreciated today as one of the finest painters of still life this country has produced in the twentieth century. With their pristine surfaces, unusual arrangements, and vivid color combinations, his canvases stand out as the creations of an artist deeply aware of tradition yet beholden to no one.
Luigi Lucioni had his first one-man show in New York in 1927 at the Ferargil Galleries. He was still in his mid-twenties and within a short time won recognition, primarily through his still-life painting, as one of this country's most adept and successful artists. During the Depression , when other artists, especially the young and unestablished, found it extremely difficult to earn a living from their art, Lucioni could not produce his exquisitely composed, meticulously finished canvases quickly enough to satisfy the demand. Private collectors and public institutions across the country, including the Fogg Art Museum and the San Diego Museum of Art, acquired examples of his work, often while they were still hanging on the walls of his gallery in New York. Featured in group shows from Dallas to Milwaukee and Memphis, Lucioni cultivated and maintained a truly national reputation.
In 1932 Lucioni had his first one-man show in Boston and scored a tremendous coup when The Metropolitan Museum of Art purchased his luminous Dahlias and Apples.. Suddenly, Lucioni's name was in the headlines of the art pages. "This is believed to be the first time an artist of Lucioni's years has been represented at the Metropolitan," it was reported in the New York Herald Tribune. "Painted with realistic skill and a modern feeling for composition, it is viewed as a characteristic and excellent work of the young painter." 1
Early in January of the following year Henry McBride, art critic for the New York Sun, found the crowd attending the opening of Lucioni's show at the Ferargil Galleries, which also handled the work of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, "quite formidable." he then went on to note with obvious admiration and pleasure: "There is no success quite like Mr. Lucioni's. It is both painting and personal. The people see the pictures, are enraptured with them and say he is exactly as they thought he must be and then they buy several. It is very delightful and quite as it should be. The pity is there is only one Mr. Lucioni in this town." 2 Later that season a still life by Lucioni could be seen in the Whitney Museum's First Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting.
The son of a coppersmith, Luigi Lucioni was born on November 4, 1900 in Malante, a small town in northern Italy. As a child he manifested a precocious ability to draw and was sent to the local art school. When he was ten years old, Lucioni came to the United States with his family, and five years later he was studying art in night classes at Cooper Union. Before he was twenty, Lucioni, who supported himself as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines in New York, was enrolled at the National Academy of Design. "From the beginning I have always been interested in sharp lines and pattern but that was not encouraged at the Academy," the artist confided to Forbes Watson in 1932. "After three years at the Academy I received a fellowship to The Tiffany Foundation where I have worked every summer since. Working out of doors for the first time and on still-life, I was greatly upset for the life-class type of painting failed me. Then I became experimental with color and completely ignored drawing and line for pure color which I applied with a palette knife. That did not satisfy me...I continued to work for form but tried to do it with a more subtle line. I went to Europe the following summer for two months and admired greatly the primitive painters. On my return to New York I really began to paint as I wanted...now there was no one to stop me." 3
Lucioni painted his still lifes in the fall and winter when the cold and lack of light prevented him from working out-of-doors. Completely devoted to his art, Lucioni painted every day of the year. He staunchly believed that the foundation of beautiful art was draughtsmanship and dismissed those who did not share his reverence for line and form as fakers. He considered Piero della Francesca the greatest artist of all time; among the Americans, Lucioni's favorites were Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins.
Comfortably ensconced in his studio above Washington Square, Lucioni carefully arranged his still-life compositions which, besides fruit and flowers, often included and odd assortment of objects ranging from copper utensils to early American glass bottles. Some of these objects were collected by the artist during his annual visits to Vermont, where he was often a guest of Mrs. J. Watson Webb and her daughter. These objects simply appealed to Lucioni's sense of beauty and texture, but the intensity with which he presented them indicates a certain emotional quality or sense of mystery. Lucioni's vision dictated that every inch of the canvas should be brought to the same degree of finish and fastidious attention to detail. He worked on each still life for nearly a month, thus his output was not large. Lucioni experimented with the compositions of Cezanne, whose influence can be seen in the tilted angles of vision and perspective in some of Lucioni's most intriguing still lifes. Although his style was described by some as photographic, Lucioni never worked from photographs and did not depend on carefully worked up sketches. He just painted what he saw the way he wanted to paint it. "There's nothing I can do about it," the artist once revealed. "You can only be yourself." 4
Friends remember the artist as a simple, modest, down-to-earth man, and this aspect of his personality seems to be reflected in his art with its emphasis on clarity and unhesitant outline. An avid opera fan, Lucioni was friendly with the most famous stars of his day, including Lily Pons. Genial and gregarious, he was also acquainted with many well-known actors and actresses, Ethel Waters, Tallulah Bankhead, Henry Fonda, and Tyrone Power among them. As Henry McBride pointed out, Lucioni's success seemed to derive equally from his personality and his art. As an artist, Lucioni always knew exactly what he wanted to do and did not pay attention to what others did or thought, nor did he bother about what might be considered appropriate or fashionable.
The deeper one delves into the career of this suave and sensitive painter, who hit his stride at such an early age and maintained it with such grace and assurance, the stronger one's admiration of Lucioni and his work grows. In a time of violent polemics and divisionary tactics in the arts here was a truly democratic painter who pleased nearly everyone by refusing to cater to anything other than his own standards, which were remarkably high.
Critics compared his artistry to that of Jan Van Eyck and Holbein; some saw in his work a distinctly American parallel to the Neue Sachlichkeit artist of contemporary Germany. Hailed by McBride as "the most popular painter that this country has produced since the time of Gilbert Stuart," 5 Lucioni was also praised in Parnassus as a "painter to be envied. With very little experimentation he has found a style which apparently fulfills all his pictorial needs. It is a sort of sublimated realism; natural forms are reproduced with marvelous accuracy, bathed in pellucid atmosphere. Everything is raised a key or two. Lucioni's outlines are firmer, his colors clearer, the spatial relations of objects more precise than any in nature. It is like looking at the world through strong myopic lenses or with the sharpened eyes of fever .....Lucioni's personality emerges most clearly in his well-known still lifes." 6
It is not difficult for us to understand why these compositions, with their vibrant colors and variety of textures, struck such a strong, sympathetic chord when they were first exhibited. They are as fresh and appealing today as they were when they were first painted. As a young man, Lucioni seemed to burst upon the art scene in New York a mature artist, in full command of his talent and unique to himself. "His finesse is marvelous to behold," readers of the New York American were informed in 1936. "Yet he does more than capture on canvas the landscape or still life or human countenance he portrays. He also gives us, in a passion of precision, his enchantment with nature. Every detail recorded by his brush is a triumphant sign manual of his soul's delight in things as they are." 7
Mark Reinfurt owner of Equinox Antiques, invites you to enjoy for a limited time (10) superior oil paintings currently for sale in the gallery by American premier Vermont artist Luigi Lucioni. The gallery is open most days between (10-5) located at 5036 Historic Main Street in the heart of the shopping district in Manchester, Vermont.
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