Zandomeneghi: A Venetian in Paris

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On Saturday I was invited to a wonderful exhibition in Padova: L’Impressionismo di Zandomeneghi. I confess I had barely heard of him but I didn’t know his artistic production. I have to thank Irene and la Fondazione Bano for the invitation. Plus a special thanks to our graceful guide Valeria who made me appreciate the exhibition, consisting of 90 works, half of them never on display before, that retrace Zandomeneghi’s artistic path. Ah, the pronounce! Zandomeneghi is [zahn-doh-MEH-neh-gee].

Who was Zandomeneghi?

Federico Zandomeneghi was a Venetian who felt Venice was too small for him. His father and grandfather were successful sculptors, but he preferred painting. Moreover he wanted to overcome the standards of the painting of his time, mostly devoted to historical, romantic or ideal cityscape subjects.

So, after joining Garibaldi in the Expedition of the Thousands, he moved to Florence. There the art scene was more modern, mainly thanks to the Macchiaioli tendency. He started painting realistic subjects with a hint of social criticism.

Paris is always a good idea

All of a sudden, in 1874, he moved to Paris in order to see for himself the new artistic expressions. He ended up staying in Paris for the rest of his life. At first he couldn’t fit. There were many artistic tendencies and he didn’t know which one to join. Even the Impressionist seemed not very innovative to him. He thought he had already done all their experimentations when in Florence. It was his friend, the art critic Diego Martelli (you can see him in one of the rare male portraits at the exhibition together with the doctor, who seems very likeable by the way), who convinced him to join the Impressionists, since, according to him, their style was a continuation and not a repetition of his art.

At the exhibition we can admire unusual and random glimpses of Paris, with no famous landmarks, fragments of bourgeois life, people enjoying nature, always with an attention to small details such as an earring glow, the smoke of a chimney stack on the background or a tinge of bright light on a glass.

Homage to women

There is a deep respect and a great homage to women in his works. The women of Zandomeneghi are emancipating themselves in the Belle Epoque era: they go to theatre, they take singing lessons, they play the piano, they enjoy a drink at a café, they even use bicycles.

Even if we can spot some resemblance between his paintings and some works of Degas or Renoir, in Zanomeneghi we will never find cynicism, emotional detachment or mockery. On the contrary he always shows participation and a benevolent look towards a ballerina preparing for her performance, a woman caught in the privacy of her salle de bain, two friends gossiping or laughing or for a girl stretching on an armchair in the intimacy of her parlour, free from the rigid society conventions.

These women are happy, lively and free and like his nonconformist friend Suzanne Valadon, former circus performer, then model for many artists, an also lover of some of them. She observed the painters at work and read books until she was able to paint herself. She was in fact the first woman admitted to the French National Society of Fine Arts. We can see her simpering and self confident sitting at a Café in a couple of paintings.

Vivid and full of life

Even after many years in France his use of colours is still deeply Venetian in a symphony of red or green shades, vivid colours and skilful use of light.

We are fascinated by young women absorbed in reading, petting a dog, setting a bouquet of flowers or an apple bowl. Even his still lifes are not that still. They are bright and full of life, as if they had just been set by their graceful owner, who sometimes leaves a trace of her passage, as a glove or a scarf, ready for her next appointment in town.

I really liked the exhibition. Other than displaying remarkable paintings, it conveys a message of respect and love towards women: graceful, sensual and more and more independent. To see L’Impressionismo di Zandomeneghi you have time until January 27!


L’Impressionismo di Zandomeneghi

Tuesday – Sunday 9.30am – 7pm
Closed on Mondays, December 24 and 25, January 1.
Open on Oct 31, Dec 26, Jan 2

Full Ticket 12€, Reduced 10€, Young (6-17) 6€, Free under 6

Audioguide in Italian or English €5 (double audioguide 8€)

Palazzo Zabarella
Tel. (+39) 049 8753100
via Zabarella, 14 – Padova

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