Interview with Antonio De Robertis and Alan Zamboni.

In the art world, it is not singular reconstructing important decisive moments and relationships by using pictures. On this subject, there is an image whose recent interpretation could open interesting scenarios. It’s about a document dating back to the eighties of the nineteenth century, whose details have raised attention and questioned two artistic Italian investigators: Antonio De Robertis, independent expert of Van Gogh and Alan Zamboni, writer and musician who has been sharing his passion for five years. We met them while they were passing through in Paris to present the discovery to Jerôme Delatour, Library curator at the Art History National Institute in Paris (INHA), and we took the opportunity to make us tell about the background of an interesting hypothesis.

Alan Zamboni e Antonio De Robertis, Parigi, febbraio2015, Photo by SaraRania

Alan Zamboni e Antonio De Robertis, Parigi, febbraio 2015, Photo by Sara Rania

How did you begin searching ?

ADR: All started by a huge work planned to identify the protagonists of some Van Gogh’s portraits. During this operation, I came across a picture regarding the Atelier Cormon, where Van Gogh would have attended from March to June in 1886. At the beginning, that made me curious especially because the setting did not correspond with the specified place. I analysed the issue in a deeper way and found myself in front of another photo of the next year taken exactly in the same place. This theory was then confirmed by the comparison with some students’ works created during the lessons, where there were the same views as shown in the first image, with lots of shelves and hangers.

Where and who took the photo?

ADR : It would be a group photo made ​​by Edmond Bernard presumably at the Académie Julian in Paris (Faubourg Saint – Denis No. 48), portraying the students of the course of Professors Lefebvre and Boulanger Bougureau A.Y.1887-1888, despite on backside there’s a pencil note “ Cormon et ses eleves” (Cormon and its students).

Where is the picture now ?

ADR : The photo is by the INHA Library in Paris within Jacques Doucet collections, as listed on the special page within the Arago photographic portal.

Who would be the protagonists?

ADR: Participants’ identity was identified through the research and the comparison with other photos or paintings. It’s about students of the academy and artists of that time, arranged according to their nationality and body height. At the top right there’s the Nabis group, in the middle part the Dutch Briet, Nibbrig, Smith and Frankfort, at the bottom the British Hartrick, Ryland, McNight, on the right the Australians as well as Russell, Withers and Waugh, on the left the Finns Kallela, Ederfelt, Jarnefelt, Wikstrom; and on the top part, the Americans and Canadians Barrett, Bevan, Harris, Hassam, Reid, Peel, Charles Alexander Smith, De Martigny.

The importance of the discovery was given in particular to the presence of Van Gogh & Gauguin, painted together few months from the known events which later on will see them in Arles.

To test the detection of Van Gogh, I started looking for some of his friends in the picture, and ran into Russell, then I found Hartrick and Ryland.

I then remembered about one letter from Van Gogh to his friend and academy mate in Antwerp, Horace M. Livens, between August and autumn of 1887 where he invited to join him at his brother house in Lepic Street in Paris and prayed him also to greet some friends including Briet. That’s how I reconnected the faces of the other Dutch, Smith and Frankfort, Nibbrig and so on …
In a bohemian atmosphere compatible with the young age of the characters, I found also Paul Serusier, the Academy Massier (senior student delegated by the teachers for the management of the other students and the practical requirements, such as payment of daily expenses such as coal for stoves, models, etc.), further to the right of Gauguin, shifting over, the future Nabis who attended the Julian Academy in 1888: Lacombe, Bonnard, and Ranson portrayed while pulling his mate Ken Xavier Roussel’s hair and on the left Serusier, Ibels, Vuillard and Terrus. It was hard recognizing Gauguin , until I came across a famous portrait while they were standing, during the Tahitian period (’95 -’96).

Serusier and Gauguin do not know each other, they do not even introduce one to another, nor speak.

Nobody before this photo, however, knew that the two of them had already noticed before the main meeting in October, in Pont-Aven , when creating together the masterpiece Le Talisman on a cover of a tobacco box, they theorised the Syntheticism, so that Serusier would make introduce Nabis to others on his return to the Academy.

The notebook test

ADR: To confirm my thesis, I kept looking through and I came across another Van Gogh identification proof appearing elegantly, wearing a black tie with white flowers, reminding of another tie in negative worn by his brother Theo in a snapshot made presumably in the same period. Younger than the selfportraits, although with a visible middle patch on the hairline, Van Gogh holds in his left hand a small black notebook, compatible with the one stored at the Van Gogh museum under the initials SB 2 (sketch book 2), begun in Nuenen and continued in Antwerp, whose last pages regard the Paris period between mid 1887 and 19 February 1888. A collection of sketches and annotations including some studies of anatomy and the pencil note at page 46, on which you could read: Académie Julian, 8 fevrier, (Julian Academy, 8th February) and so realise an appointment perhaps matching with the photo.

A possible date : February 8th, 1888

ADR : The exact date of the photo could be February 8th, 1888, because on the same day of 1887 Russell, in this photo, was not in Paris, and in 1886 Van Gogh and the Dutch students were still in Antwerp. Date that could coincide with the wedding of Russell with the Italian model Marianna Mattiocco, which took place right in the afternoon on February 8th, 1888 at the Mairie du 18ème arrondissement (the City Hall of the 18th district), in which Russell had his home-studio. Cross-checking all data with the memo on the notebook and with the presence of friends, but not students, in the Russell’s picture, we can understand that they had agreed to meet in the morning at the academy, all in elegant suits, and then attend the ceremony and buffet. Probably, it was Van Gogh to organise the meeting, being himself the connection between the two groups.

From |


Sara Rania



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