FAIRFIELD, CONN.- The Fairfield University Art Museum
presents a new exhibition, Leonardo Cremonini (1925-2010) Timeless Monumentality: Paintings from The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, on view from Friday, November 4, 2016, through Saturday, March 4, 2017, in the museums Walsh Gallery in the Quick Center for the Arts on the campus of Fairfield University
This survey exhibition of close to forty works from the peerless holdings of The William Louis-Dreyfus Foundationthe first devoted to the artist in over two decades, presented at a moment of renewed interest in modern and contemporary Italian paintingwill serve to introduce Cremonini to new audiences and foster a critical reappraisal of his art. William Louis-Dreyfus, long an admirer of Cremonini, collected his work in depth. He was a generous and enthusiastic supporter of the Fairfield University Art Museums exhibition and was energetically involved in its planning until shortly before his death on September 16. It is a great sadness that he did not live to see its realization. In tribute to this extraordinary man, whose profound kindness and generosity of vision in support of the Harlem Childrens Zone was the subject of a recent film, Generosity of Eye, by his daughter actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband, Brad Hall, the exhibition is presented in his memory.
The Italian painter Leonardo Cremonini (1925-2010) attained the height of recognition and critical acclaim in the second half of the twentieth century. His British contemporary Francis Bacon was an early admirer and praised him to the poet W. H. Auden. Italian literary giants Umberto Eco, Italo Calvino, and Alberto Moravia authored lyrical appreciations of his work. Another champion was William Rubin, legendary director of The Museum of Modern Art, who articulated the essential idea that Cremoninis canvases embody a spirit of timeless monumentality.
Although he enjoyed this renown, and his work is to be found in numerous public collections across Europe and the U.S. (including MoMA), Cremonini is today largely unknown to all but a few art-world specialists.
Cremoninis canvases are striking both for their obvious technical mastery and for their distinctive, haunting imagery. Psychologically remote, languid and detached, they are eternally frozen in train cars and bedrooms, in bathing huts or on seaside terraces, caressed by a sultry Mediterranean light that induces indolence rather than industry.
Although he lived and worked for much of his career in Paris, Cremoninis art is fundamentally Italian in its privileging of a figurative idiom, and in its deliberate grounding in Italian art history. His geometric clarity and purity of form recall the still lifes of Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). Surrealist elements invoke Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978). Flayed and butchered animal carcasses, a favorite subject in Cremoninis paintings of the 1950s, have a long tradition in European art, with some of the most celebrated examplesmost notably Annibale Carraccis Butcher Shop (1580)having been produced in Cremoninis native Bologna in the late sixteenth century. And the rigorously constructed architectural spaces that adhere to the geometric rules of perspective hark back even further, to Piero della Francesca and other artists of the Italian Renaissance.
Cremoninis technique became increasingly painstaking and laborious over time. A meticulous and careful application, scraping away, and reapplication of paint layers resulted in the paradoxically smooth, tissue-like surfaces that his canvases so frequently exhibit. Reminiscent of the dilatory practice of Leonardo da Vinci a half a millennium earlier, his method often included long periods of scrutiny unaccompanied by any movement of the brush. Contemplation and permanence, rather than speed and flux, are the essence of Cremoninis technique and subject matter alike.