Project Description

Giovanni (Nino) Costa (Rome 1826 – Marina di Pisa 1903), The ‘Alba’ study for The awakening of nature

Oil on canvas cm 25 x 53 signed lower left.


Provenance: Reverend Stopford Brooke (bought by Costa in 1877).

Exhibitions: Wolverhampton, Art and Industrial Exhibition, 1902, n. 78.

Bibliography: The Athenaeum ( Grosvenor Gallery Exhibition), 1879, n.2689 (p.607); G.Fleming, Notes on a collection of pictures by Prof. G. Costa , cat. Fine Arts Society, Londra 1882, pp20-21; O.R.Agresti, Giovanni Costa,His life, Works and Time, London 1904; Nino Costa e i suoi amici inglesi, Milan, Circolo della Stampa 1982 edited by Paul Nicholls; A.Schmidt, Nino Costa (1826-1903) Transnational Exchange in European Landscape Painting , Silvana Editoriale Milan 2016 p.83, photo 41 and im. n 60.

Our particularly important painting in the Roman painter’s output depicts the Tyrrhenian coast near Bocca d’Arno in Marina di Pisa, mouth of the Tuscan river, with the crest of the Apuan Alps in the background.

On the seashore on the left, beyond the beach semi-hidden among the tufts of saracchio, Costa inserts a reclining faun.  As Arnika Schmidt mentions (p. 81) the figure of the faun may have been taken from similar subjects by Arnold Boecklin (1827-1901) testifying to the Swiss painter’s profound influence on the young Costa, who always kept one of his works in his studio.

The painting was purchased by Reverend Stopford Brooke in 1877. In a letter quoted by O.R. Agresti and reported by P.Nicholls, ( cat. Nino Costa and his English friends) the reverend mentions about the painting ‘In this gloomy norther city it will give me continual pleasure and hope to look on a picture which embodies all the poetry of Italy’

Costa sold the large painting ‘The Awakening’ to the National Gallery in London in 1896 . However, the painting was destroyed during the last world war, and it is known for an engraving of the painting without the faun. Our painting can therefore be considered the valuable finished sketch for the later lost London painting in which the faun does not appear.

Costa first mentions the magnificent panorama of the Apuan Alps when he had a chance to see them from the ship on which he boarded in Civitavecchia in 1859 on his way to Genoa to participate in the Second War of Independence. That view remained in his heart and he returned to the area several times to paint.

In 1885 he bought a house in Bocca d’Arno where he resided for long periods and where he died there in 1903. Friends and colleagues from the ‘Etruscan School’ visited him regularly. George Howard, one of Costa’s most frequent friends in frequenting the house, bought several paintings from the fellow painter with the subject of the Tuscan coast and the Apuan Alps, one of which was ‘Bocca d’Arno’ exhibited at the New Gallery in London in 1889.

Costa painted the Tuscan landscape several times, besides ours we mention Between Summer and Autumn, now at Castle Howard. Mountain outlines similar to those in our painting also appear in the later Leda with Swan of 1900.

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