Andrade's modernity as a painter before he became an architect: GAM's Temporale

Today we know Alfredo d'Andrade (Lisbon, 1839 - Genoa, 1915) as one of the greatest architects of his time, but as a young man he was an extraordinarily modern painter. And the "Temporale sulla palude di Castelfusano," now at GAM in Turin, is his masterpiece.

Browsing through a nineteenth-century art history textbook, it will not be difficult to come across the name of Alfredo d’Andrade, the great Portuguese-born (full name was Alfredo Cesar Reis Freire de Andrade) but naturalized Italian architect whom we associate today with the major projects of the Gothic revival in Italy: the Castello d’Albertis in Genoa, for example, or the Borgo Medievale in Turin, and then a whole series of restorations conducted according to the theories and taste of the time, when heavy-handed interventions were made on ancient monuments by rereading and revising, often arbitrarily, certain elements. It will suffice to recall the restoration of the early Christian Baptistery of Albenga, when Andrade had the dome knocked down: he thought it was a Renaissance rehash, and so he might as well redo it, since it was not original anyway. The problem is that it was later discovered that, with the slate slabs removed and repositioned in later times, the structure was actually late antique. Needless to blame Andrade, however: the prevailing practice at the time was stylistic restoration, and the Lusitanian was in any case among the least violent professionals with regard to ancient heritage.

Less well known, but extremely interesting, is his career as a painter: to architecture, in fact, Alfredo d’Andrade would come later. When, in his early twenties, he settled in Genoa, unceremoniously abandoning the world of business and commerce (in fact, the family wanted the scion to embark on a brilliant financial career), young Alfredo went to study under Tammar Luxoro, one of the leading Genoese painters of the time, with the clear intention of becoming a painter himself. He was so firm in his purpose that he decided to move for some time, between 1860 and 1861, to Geneva, specifically to take lessons from Alexandre Calame. In Switzerland, however, he was thunderstruck by the art of Antonio Fontanesi, who was revolutionizing landscape painting in those years and who at the time was residing precisely in Geneva: from then on, Alfredo d’Andrade’s painting, while continually nourished by comparison with colleagues, above all the Piedmontese Vittorio Avondo, another inescapable point of reference for his art, would continue to manifest all the charm of Fontanesi’s views. Often, moreover, rivaling in modernity his ideal master: this is what comes to mind when observing a masterpiece such as the Temporale sulla palude di Castelfusano, now at the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Turin, where it entered in 1931 following a donation from Ruy de Andrade, the artist’s nephew.

The work is from 1867, a time when Andrade was constantly traveling the length and breadth of Italy: he wants to get to know the whole country, he wants to visit every city, see the most beautiful landscapes, learn about contemporary figurative researches, be inspired by the quietness of the countryside, explore villages and urban centers to further his studies on the Middle Ages and the Renaissance that so interested him even at that time, and that would eventually change his profession and make him one of the most celebrated architects of his time. In 1867, however, Andrade was still a painter, and he found himself traveling through the Roman countryside, in the footsteps of Avondo himself, who had made (and would continue to make) numerous trips around Rome, leaving memories of them in his paintings and especially in a large nucleus of drawings. We imagine, therefore, an Alfredo d’Andrade on a rainy day, in front of a marsh among the Castelfusano pine forests, careful to record with his memory, and inevitably also on a few sheets of paper, the first impressions of the wind, the clouds, the reflections of thewater, of the dim light of the sun before the arrival of the storm, and we then imagine him in his studio, reworking the suggestions drawn from that day in the countryside, to paint one of the most original and daring views of his time.

Alfredo d'Andrade, Temporale sulla palude di Castelfusano (1867; oil on canvas, 118.5 x 78.5 cm; Turin, GAM - Galleria d'Arte Moderna, inv. P/1024)
Alfredo d’Andrade, Temporale sulla palude di Castelfusano (1867; oil on canvas, 118.5 x 78.5 cm; Turin, GAM - Galleria d’Arte Moderna, inv. P/1024)

The one at the GAM in Turin is not the only view of Castelfusano painted by Andrade: the Prado, for example, has one where part of the horizon is enclosed by the imposing silhouettes of pine trees. Still in Turin, there is a study in which the artist paints the pine forest in warmer colors, to give the idea that the storm has passed and in the distance a gap has opened in the clouds from which the rays of the setting sun filter through. GAM’s work, however, is the freest, the most brazen, the boldest view of this piece of the Roman coastline. As well as the most unconventional landscape in Andrade’s entire production. The museum catalog itself acknowledges that we are dealing with a work “of unprecedented modernity.” And this is basically for three reasons: the compositional cut, the essentiality of forms and colors, and the emotional involvement.

Andrade chooses an unusual point of view: he positions himself in front of the marsh, in front of the expanse of water, to have the horizon line exactly in the middle of the painting. The result is a symmetrical, mirror-image composition, with the distant outline of the pine forest seeming to us almost like a dark line put there to divide the sky from the water, and which also emerges by contrast from its proximity to the vertical lines of the tife sticking out of the water. It is a composition that offers Andrade the opportunity to focus exclusively on atmospheric events.

Similar solutions had been experimented with by Vittorio Avondo, but Andrade goes further, demonstrating that same attitude as an explorer of the landscape that was characteristic of Antonio Fontanesi, and wanting to express, as did the artist from Reggio Emilia, his own feelings in front of what he is looking at. To get there, Andrade chooses to simplify the composition as much as possible, reducing it almost to an abstract impression, painting it in a sketchy manner, with rapid, liquid, impulsive brushstrokes, setting the whole chromatic range on the different shades of gray, with the only exception of the earthy hues of the reeds: these are the colors that the Castelfusano pine forest takes on when the sun disappears and only the clouds that announce rain remain.

Andrade’s compositional and chromatic simplification is unmatched in coeval Italian painting, and is perhaps the most modern feature of this painting. But there is also a sensibility that anticipates the poetics of the landscape-state of mind: perhaps we cannot yet properly speak of an artist projecting his personal feelings onto the landscape, but it seems clear that Andrade expresses a strong emotional participation, suggested by the approaching storm. We almost seem to see the movement of the swollen clouds of rain, arriving from the right side of the painting: the black clouds, on that side, have now swallowed up the few glimmers of blue, are about to obscure the last glimmers of the sun, which we also see reflected on the water in the center, and have thrown into shadow almost half of this glimpse of pine forest, painted in much darker tones than on the left side. Here is the enthralling force of this landscape: we feel that soon ominous cumulus will cover the whole sky, the atmosphere will become gloomy, and rain will fall on the pine forest.

Alfredo d’Andrade’s Thunderstorm is a remarkably underrated painting. Perhaps this is because its author’s name is now commonly associated with his architectural achievements, and consequently we tend to overlook his early experiences as a painter. But even at the time of its creation, the work did not find great response: we know that a painting titled The Marshes of Castelfusano was exhibited at the 1871 Promotrice di Torino, but we are not sure whether it was exactly the one in GAM that was in the Prado, or some other work that perhaps remained in a private collection. Probably, the Temporale was too far ahead of its time. Today, however, we have the proper tools to place it in a prominent position within that very high tradition that starts with Turner and Constable, passes through Fontanesi, Nino Costa, Fattori, the landscape-state painters such as Previati, Segantini, Khnopff, and arrives up to the visionary views of Anselm Kiefer, which moreover often show an incredible resemblance to Andrade’s Temporal . We do not know if Kiefer knows Andrade, but it does not matter. They appear similar to us because similar is their sensibility.

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