Lot 35
  • 35

Angelo Morbelli

180,000 - 220,000 USD
212,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Angelo Morbelli
  • Tempi Lontani
  • signed Morbelli and dated 1908 (lower left)
  • oil on canvas


The Estate of Vance N. Jordan, New York (and sold, Sotheby's, New York, April 23, 2004, lot 77, illustrated)
Acquired at the above sale


Rome, Società di Amatori e Cultori di Belle Arti, 1908, Sala N, no. 304


Archivi del Divisionismo, Rome, 1968, vol. II, no. VI. 125

Catalogue Note

Italian Divisionism was born in part from American physicist and color theorist Ogden Rood’s Modern Chromatics of 1879. Among its chief principles, Rood's text stated that two colors juxtaposed (or “divided”), rather than mixed on the palette, would fuse, resulting in an optical effect of increased luminosity and a more realistic representation of natural light, particularly when seen at a distance. Experimenting with chromatic effects led to the Divisionists’ leading mission: the accurate recreation of all forms and effects of light (Sandra Berresford, “Divisionism:  Its Origins, Its Aims, and Its Relationship to French Post-Impressionist Painting,” Post-Impressionism, London, 1979, p. 219). Angelo Morbelli embraced Rood’s dictums and Divisionism in the late 1880s, and by the early twentieth century works like Tempi Lontani (Bygone Days) had earned his reputation as one of its greatest masters.  Divisionism became the leading avant-garde movement in Italy in the 1890s when it began to appear in exhibitions in the north from several artists, who each arrived at the technique in a different manner and adapted it to fit their individual goals.  Core members included Morbelli, Giovanni Segantini, Vittore Grubicy, Gaetano Previati, Emilio Longoni, Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo and Plinio Nomellini.  While Divisionists were born in various regions of Italy, Milan became the group’s artistic center, since all but Nomellini studied at the city’s Brera Academy, and all were influenced by the Scapigliati, a group of artists whose loose, atmospheric style, based on Italian sources and tradition, anticipated the Divisionists' experiments in light and atmosphere.

In their technique, Divisionists have been considered a branch of French Neo-Impressionism, yet the Italian movement’s first generation had no direct contact with these artists (though they each followed many of the same optical theories).  Largely, the Divisionists did not apply paint with the dots and points of artists such as George Seurat or Paul Signac; instead, each favored their own variant on a technique which involved applying long, thin lines or “filaments” of contrasting color, with Morbelli among the most tireless in his refinement (Norma Broude, “Italian Painting During the Impressionist Era,” World Impressionism:  The International Movement, 1860-1920, New York, 1990, p. 204). By the time he painted Tempi Lontani, Morbelli had perfected his intricate method of first sketching out his compositions in terms of chiaroscuro on a neutral ground, then creating a vibrating, luminous surface with repeated applications of a single color -- interwoven with others in fine, short strokes using a hard, three pointed brush he specifically designed for this purpose.  The painstaking genius of Morbelli’s technique is revealed in any singular detail of the composition, from the tightly concentrated lines of subtly contrasting earthy tones of the shadowy wall to the green-blue lines which run across the pale skin of the figures aged skin; as with many of his compositions, the disparate lines of color, light, and shadow are contained within a glistening gold border.   

The early Divisionist movement was concerned with visual objectivity in painting scenes of social reality. Morbelli was accordingly committed to using new experiments in optical theory to reveal the physical and psychological condition of the working class, social outcasts, and, as with Tempi Lontani, the elderly.  The present work follows the artist’s cycle of six paintings titled Il Poema della vecchiaia (The Poem of Old Age), exhibited at the Venice Biennale of 1903 and painted at Pio Albergo Trivulzio, a home for the disadvantaged elderly in Milan (founded in the eighteenth century and still in operation), which Morbelli first painted in 1883 and where he set up a studio in 1902-3 (fig. 1). In the following years, and through 1911, the home became a frequent location in Morbelli’s work with death, loss, and the remembrance of the past all key themes he explored with both objectivity and empathy (Lara Pucci, “Notes on Artists and Paintings,” Radical Light, Italy’s Divisonist Painters 1891-1910, exh. cat., The National Gallery, London;  Kunsthaus Zürich, June 2008 - January 2009, p. 150). While the aged figures of Tempi Lontani share a bench, the tightly cropped vertical space and the nondescript corridor suggest isolation.  A window illuminated with cold, blue-white light contrasts with the somber shade of the painting, while the figures themselves appear softly lit by a source directly in front of them, unseen by the viewer, adding to the introspection of the scene.   While this realistic study invites an emotional reaction, Morbelli wanted no hint of sentimentality in his works, his devotion to sincerity marks the modernity of his Divisionist images.