Portrait of the Bertolini Son

Pendant to Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1999-4-1

Vincenzo Gemito, Italian, 1852 - 1929

Geography:
Made in Italy, Europe

Date:
1914

Medium:
Graphite and black crayon, on beige wove paper, mounted down

Dimensions:
Sheet: 55 3/16 x 31 7/16 inches (140.2 x 79.8 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:
1999-4-2

Credit Line:
125th Anniversary Acquisition. Purchased with the Lola Downin Peck Fund, the Alice Newton Osborn Fund, and with funds contributed by Marilyn L. Steinbright and the J. J. Medveckis Foundation, 1999

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Label:
Gemito, an orphaned street child from Naples, became the most important Italian sculptor of the late nineteenth century and is increasingly regarded as one of the period's great draughtsmen. He made two large-scale pendant portraits of a brother and a sister for the Bertolini family, who owned the grandest hotel in Naples, Bertolini's Palace Hotel, at the time the drawings were done. Each of these portraits is odd in its own way; here, the boy's rifle is a strange combination with his formal velvet suit. According to an undocumented account, the boy committed suicide a few years after the portraits were done.

Additional information:
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Fascinated by likenesses, Vincenzo Gemito made these two pendent drawings for the Bertolini family, who were hoteliers and owners of Bertolini’s Palace Hotel in the Parco Grifeo above the Corso Vittorio Emanuele in Naples. This was the grandest hotel in the city at the time the drawings were done, in 1913-14, designed by a French architect whom Gemito knew and had recommended to the family (the 1911 Baedeker’s The Mediterranean: Seaports and Sea Routes gave it first listing under “Hotels ... Of the very first class: Bertolini’s Palace Hotel”). At some point the Bertolini fell on hard times and were forced to sell not only their hotel but all their other possessions as well, which would have included the drawings of Laura and her brother (given their large size, these were probably done for display, and in fact they may have hung in one of the salons of the hotel). A Roman lawyer, Francesco Turi, bought the drawings from the Bertolini either at the hotel sale or at some time in the 1920s. In 1948 the Accademia di San Luca in Rome requested from Turi the loan of the Gemito drawings for an exhibition of the artist’s works, but the loan never took place; sometime after that year the works came to Rome with Francesco Turi’s son Carlo (correspondence, Carlo Turi to Innis Howe Shoemaker, 22-24 February 1999). The girl’s name, Laura Bertolini, is known through the inscription at the bottom right corner of the enormous sheet. Dr. Turi claimed that she was between eighteen and twenty years old at the time of the portrait, possibly on the basis of personal knowledge, or possibly because of her knowing, adult facial features and the developed musculature of her legs. These adult qualities create a disturbing discontinuity with her childish dress and occupation--she is busy with a hoop and a dog in the manner of a child of about ten. Her brother’s appearance and attitude, sumptuous and decadent, along with the barren surroundings and the staircase leading nowhere, compound a sense of mystery. The rifle casually slung over his shoulder is strangely at odds with his velvet suit but prescient of his fate: he committed suicide a few years after the portraits were drawn. The drawings confirm Gemito’s status as a major twentieth-century draughtsman whose late work, including his pornographic drawings, deserves to be better known (for a number of his chalk portraits, see New York, Kate Ganz Ltd. Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929): Drawings and Sculpture in Naples and Rome. Exhibition catalogue by Katherina McArthur and Kate Ganz. Catalogue Kate Ganz USA Limited, no. 11. New York: Kate Ganz, 2000, nos. 23, 27, 29, 32, 35, 36). Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 74.

    BIBLIOGRAPHY:
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gifts in Honor of the 125th Anniversary of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Exhibition organized by Alice Beamesderfer. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2002, p. 177, nos. 79-80, repro.;
    Percy, Ann and Innis Howe Shoemaker. "Collecting Collections: Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art." Master Drawings, vol. 42, no. 1 (Spring 2004), pp. 3-18, fig. 12 (Portrait of Laura Bertolini).