Angelo Morbelli (Italian, 1853-1919) Le risaiuole

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Lot 30
Angelo Morbelli
(Italian, 1853-1919)
Le risaiuole

Sold for £ 173,000 (US$ 222,140) inc. premium
Angelo Morbelli (Italian, 1853-1919)
Le risaiuole
signed and dated 'Morbelli 1897' (lower left)
oil on canvas
40 x 60cm (15 3/4 x 23 5/8in).


  • We are grateful to Professor Giovanni Anzani and Elisabetta Chiodini for confirming the attribution to Angelo Morbelli on first hand inspection, and for their assistance in cataloguing this lot.

    Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente, Milan.
    Cavalier Augusto Frizzi, Milan.
    Private collection, Genoa.
    Private collection, Milan.

    Milan, Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente, Esposizione di Primavera, 1899, no. 118.

    Società per le Belle arti Esposizione Permanente, Esposizione di Primavera Catalogo 1899, Milan, 1899, p.16.
    Esposizione Permanente di Belle Arti, Il Sole, 16 April 1899, no. 90.
    G. M (G. Macchi), Alla Permanente I. Tra artisti noti, La Lombardia, a. 41, 23 April 1899.
    F. Malaguzzi, Alla Permanente. L'Esposizione di Primavera, La Sera, a. VIII, 5 - 6 May 1899, no. 122.

    The Soprintendenza alle Belle Arti italiana considers this painting to be a work of national importance and requires it to remain in Italy; it cannot therefore be exported from Italy.

    This lot will be available to view in Milan and Rome. Please contact the department for further details.

    Painted in 1897, Le risaiuole is one of a series of paintings of rice workers, completed by Angelo Morbelli during the last years of the 19th century. For other examples see: En el arrozal, exhibited at IV Exposición de Bellas Artes é Industrias Artísticas of Barcelona in 1898;1 Per 80 centesimi!, now at the Museo Francesco Borgogna in Vercelli; and In risaia (fig 1, sold Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 1995, lot 206) exhibited at IV Triennale in Brera in 1900.2

    This series of paintings is a prime example of Divisionism, a movement flourishing in Italy in the late 19th century. Morbelli, alongside contemporary artists such as Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, Giovanni Segantini, Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Gaetano Previati and Emilio Longoni, sought to achieve maximum luminosity of colour, by applying pure, unmixed strokes of colour side by side, or 'divisionistically'. The scientific principle of complimentary colours was outlined in Michel-Eugène Chevreul's 1839 work De la loi du contraste similtané des colours et de l'assortiment des objets colorés, and further explored in Ogden N. Rood's Modern Chromatics, which was published in 1879 and became an important work for the Divisionists.3

    Landscapes provided an attractive subject for these artists to explore light but also the juxtaposition of colour and the optical effects that this technique could achieve. In addition to depicting nature in an engaging way, the Divisionist movement sought to shine a light on social inequality, and to promote the value of the working classes. In the present lot, for example, Morbelli captures the poorly-paid, back-breaking work of the women in the rice paddies in northern Italy.

    The application of pure, unmixed colours and the resulting luminosity across the whole painting harmonises the workers with nature and serves to elevate their stature. The composition further adds to the sense of harmony. The mondine figures occupy the centre of the composition and, although they are depicted at varying heights, their shared stance unites them; their individuality is only suggested through slight variations in the colour of their clothes. Morbelli's skilful depiction of their reflections in the water has the effect of melting the figures into the landscape. The high horizon and row of tall trees (also seen in In risai) contributes to a greater sense of depth in the scene, and Morbelli encourages the eye to focus on the figures in the foreground. Both the luminosity of the canvas and the subject depicted, arrests an emotional response in the viewer.

    The present lot was first exhibited in the 1899 spring exhibition at Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente in Milan. A label with wax residue on the back of the stretcher suggests the work was purchased that same year by the Società for 400 lire and assigned to one of its members: Cavalier Augusto Frizzi, a silk merchant. The work has remained in private possession since that spring exhibition; it is an exciting recent discovery from a private Milanese collection. This is the first time it has appeared at auction.

    1 cfr.IV Exposición de Bellas Artes é Industrias Artísticas. Catálogo Ilustrado, Barcelona, 1898, n. 549, p. 100.
    2 IV Esposizione Triennale di Belle Arti, Catalogo, Milan, 1900, n. 456.
    3 Fraquelli et al, Radical Light: Italy's Divisionist Painters, London, 2008, p. 21.
Angelo Morbelli (Italian, 1853-1919) Le risaiuole
Angelo Morbelli (Italian, 1853-1919) Le risaiuole
Angelo Morbelli (Italian, 1853-1919) Le risaiuole
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