“Leonetta Pieraccini Cecchi wants to paint like a man and sometimes she really does succeed,” writes critic Mario Tinti in a 1929 review of this Tuscan artist, now recognized as one of the top “narrators” of early twentieth-century Italy, both on canvas and in literature. “She paints vigorously,” Tinti continues, “with harshly modeled tones like a Spadini who’s been revealed less tender, less able and more ornery.” Leonetta Cecchi (1883–1977) trained with Macchiaioli Giovanni Fattori and Armando Spadini, Italy’s last Impressionist, a figurative artist at a time when avant-garde moments were gaining ground in Italy. Still, the intimate, very personal nature of Pieraccini’s portraiture is anything but conventional and very much a sign of her times.
From September 22 to November 18, Leonetta Pieraccini Cecchi’s portraits will be part of the much-awaited show titled Women Artists: Florence 1900 to 1950, organized by Advancing Women Artists and Fondazione CR Firenze, in the latter’s via Bufalini exposition venue. The exhibition, curated by Lucia Mannini and Chiara Toti, began as a way to showcase Pieraccini’s works in the Gabinetto Vieusseux’s Contemporary Archive, which have recently undergone restoration, and quickly morphed into the multi-artist show featuring several of Pieraccini’s female colleagues including Marisa Mori, Vittoria Morelli and Evelyn Scarampi. Expect paintings and sculpture from private collections and in-storage works from museums of national importance such as Rome’s GNAM and Palazzo Pitti’s Gallery of Modern Art.
Fillide Giorgi Levasti (1883–1966) will have multiple works in the show, which will kick off during the citywide extravaganza L’eredità delle donne (The Heritage of Women) from September 21 to 23. The Florentine artist frequented the Fine Arts Academy with Pieraccini and the pair became life-long friends. Indeed, it was Giorgi who would introduce Pieraccini to renowned art critic Emilio Cecchi, who became the latter’s husband in 1911. Theirs was a life divided between domestic tasks and cultural salons—Giorgi’s husband was mystic writer Arrigo Levasti—and their paintings reflect the humble but vibrant realities of daily life amongst Italy’s cultural milieu. But while Giorgi favored vignette-style paintings that were playful “snapshots” of whimsical but anonymous characters at the park or at the dressmakers, Pieraccini’s paintings focused primarily on those she knew and loved. Visitors to the show will see renditions of Emilio Cecchi, novelist Sibilla Aleramo, poet Cesare Pascarella and even the painter’s daughter Suso, who grew up to become the screenwriter Suso Cecchi d’Amico, hailed as the “mother of Italian cinema”.
Literature lovers in town this autumn will have the chance to discover “written portraits” during a lecture series dedicated to early twentieth-century women in art and literature titled Stories by Women in Paint and on Page, hosted at the Il Palmerino cultural association. Lectures will center on graphic artists like Anna Maria Bartolini and illustrators such as Vittoria Morelli and Anna de Matteis, not to mention the autobiographical writings of Anna Banti and Sibilla Aleramo. Pieraccini will be a protagonist at Il Palmerino too. Her 42 original notebooks stored at Florence’s Gabinetto Vieusseux were published in the 1960s as Agendine 1911–1929, with all the private reflections lacking from her earlier book Visti da vicino, a delightful slice-of-life commentary. “Her diaries are a self-portrait, but she depicts so many other people as well,” her grandson Masolino d'Amico explains. “She captures their gossip, their jealous spats, the fun they had. The cultural climate of the early 1900s was extraordinary. These intellectuals were highly esteemed, but the media said nothing of them. So they documented their own lives. They would draw each other’s portraits or pile together four coins and take a third-class train to see a concert and then write each other letters about it. Story was a part of their lives. Leonetta’s descriptions are written as if they were notes for painting a portrait.”
To me, the word “portrait” is like an echo. The via Bufalini exhibition and its side events are, in truth, a portrait of early twentieth-century creativity from the feminine perspective. I hope you will see the show of these “invisible” women so that their importance will resound throughout Florence and beyond.
Fondazione CR Firenze, via Bufalini 6, Florence
September 22-November 18