Antonio Mancini ( Rome 1852 – 1876 ), Seated young boy’s profile (1874)
Oil on little panel cm 14 x 7,6 signed ( AMancini ) lower right. On the back, visible the following pencil inscription: “Mancini dalla / 1° maniera / dall’opera di Fortuny”.
C. Virno, Catalogo ragionato dell’opera. La pittura a olio / Repertori. Ediz. Illustrata, 2019, p. 160, n. 133
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With these words, published in the exhibition catalogue of works produced by Mancini during the English period, held at the end of 1928 at the Knoedler Gallery, the great US painter John Singer Sargent recalled the meeting with the Neapolitan master at the beginning of the Twentieth century, back from by the great Parisian success achieved with the “Portrait of Mrs. Pantaleoni”. A judgment, that of Sargent, alert and objective, considering the extraordinary modernity of Mancini’s pictorial ductus, who, despite the precarious mental condition that caused him in the early Eighties of the 19th century a period of stay at the provincial mental hospital of Naples, succeeded in gaining a place of absolute importance in European painting over the two centuries.
The work presented here is an important document within the artistic path of the Neapolitan master: it is in fact, in all likelihood, a youthful portrait, dating back to 1874, made during his training period, of which there are very few testimonies today. It is a time when Mancini begins to distance himself from academic painting, to work in the studio from the truth, portraying occasional models found in the street and taking the inspiration from the show of popular life.
In this profile of a child, in fact, are evident in essence the peculiar features of a pictorial style that will become more agitated and focussed: the sudden vivid flash of light, the violent colors, often lying on the canvas in clumps and burning castings, they are seen in the construction of this figure of a young man, almost an incunabulum for the representation of Neapolitan street – urchin, whose childhood denied by miserable living conditions, described with intense realism and at the same time transfigured in a mythical key, will become one of the themes preferred by the palette of the painter.
At the same time, the inscription, visible on the back of the small panel, refers to one of the fundamental meetings for the formation of Mancini: in the summer of 1874, with Gemito, Michetti and Eduardo Dalbono, he attended the villa Arata di Portici, starting from July, living with Mariano Fortuny’s family in the months immediately preceding the sudden death of the Spanish master who had been in Rome on November 14 of that year. The meeting, fundamentally – as for the other Neapolitan artists – because of the extraordinary pictorial and aesthetic suggestions triggered by the Spanish teacher’s attendance, represented for Mancini the possibility to be known finally by Adolphe Goupil, the famous French merchant who supported the most lively pictorial and decorative talents of the time, who created the conditions for his subsequent transfer to Paris.