Florence and the Americans

Olivia Weinberg | March/April 2012

As with all long-term relationships, Florence and the Americans have history. They have been through the good times and the bad, the break-ups and the make-ups. Now they are back holding hands and exchanging flirty glances with an exhibition that digs up the past and shows us who’s who.

At the end of the American civil war in 1865, there was a surge in the number of American artists travelling to Europe, and the places that meant most to them were Venice, Rome and Florence. And so a gaggle of fresh-faced, boisterous Americans took up residence in the Tuscan capital, wooed by its irresistible good looks and ribollita. John Singer Sargent was one of them. A Florentine by birth, a fully fledged expatriate by choice, he is the most celebrated artist here (above: “At Torre Galli: Ladies in a Garden”, 1910). His watercolours are masterpieces, and his portrait of a pensive Henry James is a double whammy with a simple message—an important American in Florence, painted by an important American in Florence. But it is the lesser-known Duveneck Boys, a group of friends-cum-students-cum-artists, who chime the loudest.

Their front man, Frank Duveneck, was a charmer. He lived, worked and taught in Florence in the 1880s with Joseph DeCamp and John White Alexander, two fellow Americans who had followed him from the Academy in Munich. Promising to paint assiduously, the boys soon reverted to type and spent more time hosting parties at the Villa Castellani, home to one Elizabeth Boott. The views were spectacular and there are paintings to prove it—open, expressive, almost brilliant—but boys will be boys and Duveneck had something else in mind. After a long-winded engagement, he and Boott married in 1886. Mission accomplished, history lesson over. ~ Olivia Weinberg

Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, March 3rd to July 15th

Exhibitions at a Glance

Twice into the Stream (Galeri Nev, Istanbul, March 2nd to March 31st).

Bosoms, bottoms and belly buttons: 18 deliciously fleshy photos that may well make you want to take your clothes off.

Gustav Klimt: The Drawings (Albertina, Vienna, March 14th to June 10th).

Now here's a title that does exactly what it says on the tin. No mumbo-jumbo, just one artist, plenty of drawings, and a whole load of eroticism. What could be better?

Surrounding Bacon and Warhol (Gothenburg Museum of Art, March 17th to August 12th).

Another gallery jumps on the two for the price of one bandwagon. This unlikely duo battle it out head to head, with Hockney, Polke and de Saint-Phalle cheering from the ringside. Not a bad line-up.

Miró: Sculptor (Yorkshire Scuplture Park, March 17th to January 6th).

Joan Miró is better known for his paintings than his sculpture: will this show change that? The Underground Gallery houses the "phantasmagoric world of living monsters", with the rest appearing al fresco. Miró would approve: "sculpture", he said, "must stand in the open air".

Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji (Sackler Gallery, Washington, DC, March 24th to June 17th).

When they said 36, they meant 46. Hokusai's woodblock prints were so popular, his publisher asked for ten more. It should be a rare treat to see the lot in one piece.

Gillian Wearing (Whitechapel Gallery, London, March 28th to June 17th).

OBE, RA, YBA and TPW- Turner prize-winner - Wearing is now a big name. Her photos and videos show ordinary people doing ordinary things, mostly. This major survey includes "Bully", and eight-minute shocker.

British Design 1948-2012: Innovation in the Modern Age (V&A, London, March 31st to August 12th).

Another colossal show from the V&A, with an era's worth of stuff from the Polyprop Chair to Concorde and beyond. Sounds like a good day out. ~ OW

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