Giuseppe Leone (Joseph Léon) Righini (Italian, circa 1820-1884) Panorama of São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil
Lot 186
Giuseppe Leone
(Joseph Léon) Righini (Italian, circa 1820-1884)
Panorama of São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil
Sold for £ 120,000 (US$ 158,101) inc. premium

Lot Details
Giuseppe Leone (Joseph Léon) Righini (Italian, circa 1820-1884) Panorama of São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil
Giuseppe Leone (Joseph Léon) Righini (Italian, circa 1820-1884)
Panorama of São Luis do Maranhão, Brazil
oil on canvas
53 x 148cm (20 7/8 x 58 1/4in).


  • Provenance:
    Acquired in London by the present owner's father;
    A private collection, Brazil.

    Sao Paulo, 'O olhar distante (Distant View)', 2000.

    Relatively little is known about the life and career of Joseph Leon Righini, the foremost European artist of the 19th century to portray the Amazonian landscape. His date of birth is uncertain; however, considering he was exhibiting in Turin by 1844, it is likely that he was born circa 1820. The son of an engraver, Pietro Righini, he studied under Pecheux at the Academy of Fine Arts in Turin. He travelled to Brazil from Genoa, employed as a scenery painter for José Ramonda's Italian Opera Company.

    We know Righini must have arrived in Brazil by 1856, the date of his first work there. He settled first in Sao Luis do Maranhao, a city founded by the French at the beginning of the 18th century during their invasion of Brazil, and named after their patron saint. Righini divided his three decades in Brazil between Belém, Sao Luis do Maranhao and Salvador; cities that he portrayed in beautiful panoramas such as this.

    Righini was the greatest of the last wave of artists to portray Brazil in the mid-19th century; a time at which photography was threatening the art of topography. He was likely the first foreign artist to paint the landscape of northern Brazil, although it is not for this alone that Righini deserves a place of distinction in relation to artists active in the 19th century in Brazil. Although his composition of the landscape of the forest follows the classical standard adopted before him by the Comte de Clarac and Henri Nicolas Vinet, by choosing the clearing as a vantage point, Righini was the first painter to observe the Amazon forest in person, which was only interpolated by Clarac and never explored by any of the great traveling artists before him.

    The present work demonstrates Righini's skill for representing the dense and threatening jungle, from which the artist seems to protect himself by observing it from a more open place. His landscapes of the forest are extraordinarily moving, and the first Europeans who saw them would certainly have felt the intense emotion the artist strove to transmit. Righini's renditions of the Amazonian vegetation would probably have impressed scientific explorer Alexander von Humboldt himself, who most likely would have seen them.

    This is an ambitious and detailed composition, in which the artist blends the urban view with the impressive Amazonian vegetation with precise and unique virtuosity. It must have been immensely appreciated in its time, but also, for us today, the work constitutes not only a precise documentary but also reveals the artist's own fascination at its unveiling of the Brazilian landscape.

    Righini published a rare album of 12 engravings of Belém do Pará (1867) and we know he died in that city in 1884. Relatively few works by Righini are known to survive. Two were exhibited in 1994 as part of an the exhibition of the Geyer collection (Rio de Janeiro), but it was not until the Rediscovery exhibition in Sao Paulo in 2000 that Righini's career could be duly surveyed.

    The above painting was included in the 'O olhar distante' (Distant View) exhibition, one of a matrix of exhibitions that originated principally in Sao Paulo in 2000 and traveled throughout Brazil. 'The Rediscovery Show: Brazil+500' celebrated the "rediscovery" of Brazil on the 500th anniversary of its encounter with Western culture and its colonization by the Portuguese, who occupied it, argued for its borders and remained in power until the 19th century. A Distant View was the piéce de resistance of the Re-discovery Exhibition and was the largest exhibition to date of iconography and foreign views of Brazil throughout the centuries.

    The exhibition began with 17th century artist Frans Post, and ended with the photography work of Claude Levi-Strauss, Orson Welles and Pierre Verger. The section of the exhibition entitled 'Righini and his Time', covering the 1850s and 1860s, included fourteen Brazilian works by the artist, the largest collection ever assembled, and many of which had never before been on public view. This exhibition provided spectators with a clear indication of the exceptional position occupied by Righini among the artists active in Brazil during his time.

    P. Correa do Lago, exhibition catalogue, The Distant View, Re-Discovery (Sao Paulo, 2000);
    C. Martins, Brasiliana – A Collection Revealed (Belo Horizonte, 2000).


Saleroom notices

  • The above work will only be available for viewing and collection from our office in Sao Paulo. Bidders should be aware that it is unlikely that the work will be granted a Brazilian export licence. Please contact the department for further information.
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