Antonino Leto. Between the epic of the Florios and the light of Capri

Italy – More than ten years after the memorable exhibition dedicated to Francesco Lojacono, which represented a decisive turning point for the enhancement of nineteenth-century painting in Sicily, with the exhibition dedicated to Antonio Leto (Monreale 1844 – Capri 1913), which will be open to the public at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Palermo from 13 October 2018 to 10 February 2019, we intend to restore the European stature that also belongs to the other major protagonist of painting in Sicily.

Belonging to the same generation – Leto is six years younger than Lojacono – the two painters have had a similar story, both established as interpreters of an extraordinary Mediterranean vision of the landscape, declined in a style that has faced, from the Macchiaioli to the Impressionists, with the great modern European movements.

With about 100 works, the exhibition will be the great opportunity to reconsider Leto, in his articulated artistic path, which saw him formed first in Naples, where he went in 1864, attracted by the painting of Giuseppe De Nittis and by the proposals of the “School of Resin” that, following the lesson of Macchiaiola disclosed by Adriano Cecioni, supported a naturalistic rendering released from the analytical descriptivism of Filippo Palizzi. Winning the “Pensionato Artistico” Leto moved first to Rome in 1875 and then to Florence, between 1876 and 1878, where he worked with the Galleria Pisani, which became the largest purchaser of the production of those years.

His stay in Paris was decisive for his success on the international market and, invited by the merchant Goupil, he moved there in 1879. Of this period remains the suggestion of the beautiful paintings with scenes of Parisian life, captivating expressions of the new tastes of the bourgeois clients.

One of the most fundamental and exciting moments of the exhibition, also from a historical point of view, will be the reconstruction of the exceptional relationship between Leto and the Florio family, who were his greatest patrons. This will allow us to see in a new and special perspective the mythical era of Palermo Liberty or modernist and reflect on the complexity – through appropriate comparisons – of masterpieces such as La mattanza a Favignana, one of the most intense paintings of our nineteenth century that, in its engaging epic dimension, refers to the pages of I Malavoglia di Verga.

Particular attention will also be paid to the national consecration of the painter through purchases by the royal family and the state. The complex and fascinating genesis of another of his masterpieces, I funari di Torre del Greco, which was presented at the National Exhibition in Rome in 1883 and was the subject of public acquisition for the National Gallery of Modern Art, will be reconsidered at every stage, through the exhibition of the extraordinary preparatory studies.

In this work, compared with the painting of a similar subject, made by Gioacchino Toma a year earlier, we find an epic dimension determined by the representation and reflection on the world of work in post-unification Italy.

Part of the production presented at the Venice Biennials will be reconstructed, in particular those of 1910 and 1924, which definitively consecrated him at an international level and included him in the most prestigious circuit of collecting. His fame in this field is linked above all to landscapes with views of Capri and for the first time will be presented one of Leto’s masterpieces, Dietro la piccola marina a Capri, originally purchased by Prince Constantine of Greece at the IX Venice Biennale.

Capri was the place where he loved to retire permanently from 1890 with a choice of art and life shared with other protagonists of modern painting between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1892 he founded the “Circolo Artistico” in Capri, together with Augusto Lovatti, Bernardo Hay and other artists, who chose the Hotel Quisisana as the venue for their exhibitions. In this inspiring island of his creations, where he consumes the last season of his life, Leto has a thicker and more full-bodied painting, spotted, with strong contrasts of shadows and lights, as evidenced by the works View from the garden from the Hotel Pagano and The Faraglioni on Capri, both granted by the Ricci-Oddi Gallery in Piacenza.

Leto was able to render, with a truly personal style, the unique atmosphere and light of that enchanted island that, in those years of transition of the century, also through painting, was entering the universal imagination.

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