1865-1921 | Italian
Signed and dated "E. Lionne 1914" (lower left)
Oil on canvas
Enrico Lionne was one of Italy's most important modernist painters, and Red Roses represents the very best of his oeuvre. His mysterious subject, with her heavy-lidded eyes and a seductive gaze, is at once classically elegant and thoroughly modern as she lounges in a sumptuous garden. Painted and exhibited in 1915, the monumental oil is part of an important series of works that combines female figures and flowers in a single, tightly-focused view. It represents some of the most popular prevailing motifs of his oeuvre: women captured with an aura of luxury.
In 1915, just six years before his death, Enrico Lionne exhibited two paintings at the prestigious Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, earning the gold medal for the Italian Section. Critics and audiences alike felt that one work in particular – Red Roses – best embodied the innovative Divisionist style that Lionne had been developing over the course of his career. One reviewer wrote, “In the ranks of these much-berated practitioners of ‘divisionism’ in Italy, none maintains a more consistent or promising attitude than Enrico Lionne, whose Red Roses...[gives]...a fair idea of his luminous, variegated art that confirms the influence of the French ideas in art in Italy no less than elsewhere.”
Like their more popular French Neo-Impressionist counterparts, the Italian Divisionists were fascinated by optics and the physics of light. The technique they developed was largely informed by the text Modern Chromatics by O. N. Rood, and it employed a fluctuating dot-and-stroke application of spectral colors rather than the more uniform dots and dashes of Georges Seurat and Paul Signac. This approach was combined with a firm belief that the union of art and science would advance painting in Italy, allowing it to hold meaning within the modern age. In Rome, the city in which Lionne lived and worked, the artists’ focus was on local daily life and “realistic” subjects, devoid of the symbolic embellishments of the Lombard and Piedmontese schools.
Lionne’s own paintings, the present included, demonstrate this focus, while also introducing new, more decorative themes to Italian Divisionism’s repertoire – elegantly clad figures and flowers among them. His subject is captured with her hands clasped in front of her as she lounges across a chair. Her dark clothing provides a dramatic contrast to the abundance of vividly colored red roses that surround her. Her distinctive, brilliant blue eyes and sinuous form identifies her as a favorite model of Lionne’s and a muse he felt compelled to repeat. Considering the overall quality of the composition and the fact that it embodies the very best of his oeuvre, it is undoubtedly the artist's masterpiece.
Born in Naples in 1865, Lionne moved to Rome at the age of 20 in order to pursue a career as a painter. His first lessons came from the artist Enrico Fiore, who taught him the technical acuity that led to an important early career in illustration. He began creating works for some of Italy's most important publications, including Corriere di Roma, Don Chisciotte della Mancia, Capitan Fracassa and several newspapers. In the early 1890s, he embarked on his career as a painter, exhibiting in Rome and at the Venice Biennale. His strides in the realm of Italian Divisions elevate him as one of the most important artists of his generation, and he exhibited widely throughout his career until his death in 1921.
Canvas: 45 1/2" high x 31 1/4" wide
Frame: 56 1/4" high x 42" wide
Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, California, 1915, no. 62 (gold medal for Italian Paintings)
Loan Exhibition of International Art, Los Angeles Art Association, Los Angeles, California, 1937, no. 161
Vance Jordan Fine Art, Inc., Gallery Selections, New York, p. 71, illus.
Private collection, California
Pig’n Whistle Corporation, Los Angeles
Jules Brasner, New York, 1972-73
Grand Central Art Galleries, New York, 1980
M.S. Rau, New Orleans