Thematic affinities between Hess and Guttuso
- I cannot
conclude these notes without looking at some specific similarities
between the work of Christian Hess (Bolzano 1895 – Schwaz 1944) and
that of Renato Guttuso (Bagheria 1912 – Rome 1987). These
similarities were considered during the preparation of the
Rediscovery project and elucidated in the preface to the 1974
catalogue by Leonardo Sciascia, who noted:
"It is not without significance that the artist from central Europe, who gained artistic maturity through a complex variety of experiences, found himself observing and painting the same subjects which only a few years later the young Guttuso was to observe and to paint during his happy and fortunate period which takes its name from Scylla. Not in the same way, but the same things."
Sciascia's observations led me to seek out Guttuso at his studio in Piazza del Grillo in Rome. I left him a copy of the catalogue for the Rediscovery Exhibition and a few weeks later he was kind enough to write me a letter (reproduced here) in which he recalled he had seen Hess at work, painting at the Aspra marina in Bagheria near Palermo.
To have an idea of the thematic
similarities shared by the two painters we can take as an example "Red
and Black Houses" by Hess (Sicily 1930) and "Landscape at Bagheria"
which Guttuso painted in 1951. There are many other paintings where
similar subjects and Sicilian themes are treated by both artists. It is
clear that although Hess was working twenty years before Guttuso, their
thematic development is almost identical. Not only the roofs, but also
the cactus trees surrounding the houses in the Sicilian countryside are
central elements in both canvasses.
good reason Louis Christian Hess may be considered the forefather of a
movement that with justification could be called “Sicilian
Expressionism”. In the second half of the 20th century a long
line of high-profile and talented Sicilian painters distinguished
themselves, frequently grouped under the title “Mediterranean
Expressionism”. Not just Guttuso, but also other established artists
such as Migneco, Gianbecchina, Lia Pasqualino Noto, Saro Mirabella,
Sebastiano Milluzzo, Giuseppe Consoli, Renzo Collura, Santi Marino,
Pippo Bonanno, Bruno Caruso, Michele Spadaro, Ernesto Lombardo, Giuseppe
Gambino, Togo, Tano Santoro, Giuseppe Burgio - to name just a few -
assimilated German expressionism and produced their own brilliant
interpretations following in the manner of Hess.