Painted in 1945 during his time in New York, Arcimboldo dates from very earliest years of Donati’s engagement with Surrealism and shows him both exploring Surrealist themes as well as beginning to forge his own distinctive artistic identity. The subject of the present work is particularly pertinent; the sixteenth-century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo was totemic for the Surrealists and had been included in the 1936 Fantastic Art Dada Surrealism exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, in the form of photographs of some of his elements and seasons paintings, including Water (fig. 1). Donati takes this as his point of departure but, as Dawn Ades notes, whereas ‘In Arcimboldo’s “doubled” paintings, the individual elements (a pear or a turnip as a nose, for example) can be identified perfectly clearly […] in Emotion con moto or Arcimboldo (1945) [the present work] the painted marks that combine to create the impression of a head do not have referents in the external world’ (D. Ades, op. cit., p. 18). In this they are typical of a suggestive Surrealist imagination; the composition is full of allusions to the real world in the tiny hummingbird that sits atop the head, or the curious ‘teeth’ that run along the lower jaw. This balance of the abstract with the whimsically figurative, rendered in a beautifully rich and textured impasto, would become a hallmark of Donati’s work. As Ades goes on to explain, his painting ‘stands at the antipodes of the abstract because of the loving creation of textures, lights and gleams, tints and colour that give us skies, bodies, water, sea anemones, nebulae’ (ibid., p. 20).
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