Sensational color

Sensational color

The Milanese artist Gianni Maimeri is in the spotlight at the Academy of Arts.

Published: October 5, 2011 (Issue # 1677)


Gianni Maimeri’s celebrated painting ‘The Tabarin’ opens the exhibition at the Academy of Arts.

“The Sense of Color” exhibition that opened its doors Monday at the Academy of Arts gives Petersburgers a unique opportunity to appreciate the work of the Italian artist Gianni Maimeri.

The exposition, which comprises about 300 works, is the biggest exhibition of the artist’s works since 1919, when Maimeri’s work was showcased in his hometown of Milan.

“St. Petersburg and Milan, as we know, are sister cities,” said Gianni Cervetti, president of the Italy Russia Foundation that oversees the Year of Italian Culture in Russia events.

“This is no coincidence. They have both been and continue to be the driving force of modernity in their respective countries: Russia and Italy.”

Maimeri (1884-1951) was an extremely eclectic artist who managed to continue a long line of both cultural and artistic fine art traditions in an independent manner, having declined to follow the Vanguards of the early 20th century. He strived to depict reality based on information received through the senses, neglecting logic, formalities and the uniform stylistic shapes that dominated his epoch.

The exhibition, according to its organizers, is primarily aimed at “giving Gianni Maimeri the recognition he so fully deserves,” as well as focusing on the life, ideas and actions of the artist.

The exhibition, which comprises oil paintings, drawings and pastels, is divided into themes. It opens with the celebrated “The Tabarin” (1914), inspired by the famous cabaret of the same name. Maimeri was “struck by the green clothing on the dancer, something alive and green in an ambiguous and smoky atmosphere,” he wrote, describing the genesis of the painting in his diaries. The painting was described by the Italian art critic Raffaele De Grada as “the picture that best represents the culture, colors and sensations of life at the beginning of the 20th century.”

The cycle “Musicians and Nocturnes” evokes life in Milan in the 1920s to 1930s, a time when all the greatest musicians of the world, including many Russians, performed in the theaters of Milan. Inspired by the world of music in general and the atmosphere of the theaters in particular, the cycle includes a series of drawings of eminent musicians, including Toscanini, Prokofiev and Stravinsky, that have been shown only once before, in 1992 in Milan’s La Scala theater.


Many of the artist’s works depict life in Milan in the 1920s and ’30s.

“My grandfather had a strong passion for music,” said Gianni Maimeri Junior, president of the Maimeri Foundation and one of the organizers of the exhibition.

“Every time he went to a concert, he hid a notebook and pencil in a small pocket. He would listen while fixing on the paper what he was hearing, with the intention of making the sound visible.”

The third hall of the exhibition houses the “Figures, Flowers, Still Lifes and Interiors” series, comprising a diverse selection of oil paintings and six works made using tempera grassa on masonite and wool, illustrating Maimeri’s passion for color, which is also reflected in the name of the exhibition, “The Sense of Color”.

“All the works are united by a common vision of life, and by sentiment as the defining element of emotions and attitudes to human beings,” said Maimeri’s grandson.

The “Marine” series was inspired by trips around Lombardy, Venice, Rome and other regions and cities, while the “Navigli” cycle depicting a Milan dominated by waterways is the painter’s protest against the initiative of the Milanese government to fill in the canals in 1929 in the name of progress and development. The series is a fascinating insight into a Milan that no longer exists.

The final part of the exhibition demonstrates the development of the artist’s technical and entrepreneurial dream. In 1923, Maimeri, together with his brother Carlo, a chemist, founded a company producing fine art paints, launching a brand that is now known all over the world. This section of the exhibition is devoted to the history of the artist’s family, as well as to the origin and development of the factory, demonstrating an entrepreneurial model in which products, passion and respect combine to create a positive ethical and social role, according to Maimeri Junior.

“Similarly, these values are to be found in Gianni Maimeri’s paintings, especially in the figures animated by a strong and decent sentiment, in landscapes where nature and his deep respect for it emerge with exuberance and balance, in the musicians in which the ‘product’ resonates and imposes some kind of rightful attention similar to that which the author himself considered due to every human being based on what they can produce, and not on what they own,” said Maimeri.

“The Sense of Color. Gianni Maimeri” runs through Nov. 6 at the Academy of Arts, 17 Universitetskaya Naberezhnaya. Tel. 323 6496. M. Vasileostrovskaya.

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