Among the many joys of being an art dealer is never knowing what, or whom, will ‘walk through the door’ next. Recently we were asked by a local, and world renowned, art history professor to look at the works of an artist that she felt had been overlooked by art dealers and historians for decades. Her only hesitation was the artist’s style and subject matter … a world apart from those we are known for. However, she knew the quality would speak for itself.
When the first set of images were forwarded to us, we were intrigued and wanted to see more. After further examination and conversations we learned that not only was this artist a talented student of one of the most important 20th century Modern artists (Fernand Léger), but that a majority of his work was still in the family’s possession … the artist – Ugo Hamlet Giannini (1919 – 1993).
Shortly thereafter, I made a call to Maxine Giannini, Ugo’s wife, and she agreed to visit the gallery with some material about her husband; she arrived with biographies, videos and a dozen works in hand. Maxine is a passionate supporter of Ugo’s work and enjoys discussing, at length, the story and the meaning behind his work.
We all agreed that even though our gallery’s main focus is Realist and Academic artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, Ugo’s work (which one would classify as non-objective and abstract) may just find a comfortable home here … with dealers who not only appreciate the quality of his artwork, but believe that once the art world is exposed to his diversity and talent, Ugo’s importance as an American artist of the mid-late 20th century will be established.
After a number of conversations with Maxine, during which she began to paint a picture of a truly talented and caring individual whose artistic prowess emerged at an early age, I found it necessary to visit her home … to see for myself the works of art Ugo had created over a long and productive lifetime. We spent about 30 minutes looking at a selection of pieces from his various periods that were hanging in the lower level of her home before she took me up to Ugo’s studio, on the second floor. I must admit that while I ascended the staircase I was expecting to see a large room with canvases scattered about, paint drips on the floor and dozens of works stacked one in front of another … but as the door opened, I looked into a room that was extremely neat and clean.
To the left were a group of large canvases, all done late in Ugo’s life, wrapped and neatly organized. To the right sat a large set of bins with dozens of framed works and across from that, a desk and a large set of flat files with numerous portfolios stacked on top – all of which were filled with works of art Ugo created. The diversity and creative talent was overwhelming … I had the feeling that I just stepped back into the 1950s and at any moment, Ugo would come walking through the door to begin working on another painting. Around me were works inspired by the great Modern artist like Léger (whom Ugo studied with in Paris from 1948-1949), Picasso, and Klee; there were even a couple of original works by Klee and Léger in his studio.
Maxine, once again, began walking me through his artistic evolution, only this time with the added bonus of the visual examples. She began with a number of works, both in oil and wax crayon, that Ugo did when he was just 12 years old – some were in portfolios and a few were neatly stacked on the shelves. She quickly moved to a group of boxes that were sitting on the floor which contained a series of framed drawings Ugo created during his stint in the military. It turns out that not only did Ugo take part in the Normandy invasion, being among the first wave of soldiers to land on Omaha Beach, but he is believed to be the only artist to chronicle the events while they were taking place. It was even more interesting to learn that Ugo never displayed these drawings during his lifetime and it was only after his death in 1993, that the family discovered them in his studio. His time in the military had a lasting impact on the artist and during the last years of his life, works inspired by these memories would occupy most of his creative time.
After his service in the military and the year spent in Paris studying and working with Léger, Ugo returned to New Jersey (c.1950) and took an apartment in East Orange. It was there that he continued to experiment with color and form … taking the lessons he learned from Léger and molding them into a style and subject matter that he could call his own.
In 1951 Maxine’s piano instructor introduced her to Ugo ... who was ten years her senior; over the next two years their relationship blossomed. Ugo was still a struggling artist and unsure of his future; however Maxine was becoming inpatient and decided to set sail for Europe in the summer of 1953, leaving Ugo to ponder their future relationship. When her ship returned to port, Ugo was there to meet her and in 1955 they were married. Ugo continued working in his studio, giving classes and lectures … but even though he and Maxine were working, they were still struggling, earning less than $2,000 each year. In 1957 Maxine gave birth to a daughter and three years later (1960), their son was born.
In 1961, the family moved to a house in West Orange where Ugo was able to set up a private studio; but money was still an issue and the family’s well being was always on his mind. A few years later, c.1965, Ugo was offered a teaching position at Caldwell College; with a starting salary of $5,000 and a large studio … it was an offer this husband and father could not refuse. His dream of becoming a world renowned artist would have to wait.
His new position occupied most of his time but his desire to be an ‘artist’ never faded and he spent many hours in his more public college and private home studios creating his art. His home studio became a sanctuary, one he rarely let anyone enter. It was not until after his death that the scope and breadth of his creative talent was revealed.
Today it is our pleasure, with the help and support of the artist’s family, to slowly present to the art world, a truly great and long lost master of the American Modern Art movement. Currently we are exhibiting both in the gallery and on our web site a selection of works Ugo created from 1950 – 1959. We trust that, regardless of your personal art preferences, you will all enjoy viewing these truly creative, unique, and rarely seen works of art.
To access Ugo's Virtual Exhibition please use the following link: Ugo Giannini - A Survey
More Art Terms and Their Meaning
Since we have ventured into a new arena with Ugo’s work, I thought this would be a good time to discuss painting media … what a work is made of, or created with. To begin with you should know that paints are generally identified by the medium in which the specific pigments are suspended in, this in turn will determine its thickness (viscosity), mixing capabilities (miscibility), drying times, and dissolvability.
So now that we got the general technical jargon out of the way, let’s move on to the specifics.
Oil – probably the most widely known. Here ground pigments are mixed with oil (linseed, poppy seed, safflower, etc.). These paints usually take weeks, months, years, or even decades to dry completely. Drying times depend on the specific colors and/or the ratio of pigment to oil. Oil pigments are traditionally used on canvas or panels.
Acrylic – a relatively fast drying mixture of pigments and resin, which can be diluted with water; however, once fully dried these pigments become resistant to water. Acrylics were first developed in the 1920s and became commercially available in the 1940s. They are typically associated with works on canvas or panel, but can be applied to almost any surface.
Tempera – a mixture of egg yokes and ground pigments. This media is often associated with Old Master works of art which were often painted on wood panels. The resulting mixture is permanent and dries quickly to a smooth matte finish.
Watercolor – pigments suspended in water and usually applied to paper, though artists have used this media on canvases and panels. Watercolors are usually protected with a piece of glass or plexi.
Gouache – (pronounced gwash) another type of paint that is suspended in water, but unlike watercolors, there is a greater ratio of pigment to water … making the gouache heavier and more opaque; these are also protected with glass or plexi.
Pastel – this is pure pigment and is the same pigment used to make all other paints. Pastel sticks are formed by adding gum binder and rolling the mixture. These sticks feature the full color spectrum, from light to bold, and are not necessarily ‘pale’ in color. Pastels also need to be preserved with glass or plexi.
Wax Crayon – this is simply a stick of colored wax … I am sure that most of you initially thought of Crayola Crayons … and this is exactly what they are. Since these works are often created on paper, the final work needs the same protection other works on paper need.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York –February 2006
Gallery Updates: Our new brochures have just arrived from the printer. The first features a selection of our 19th century paintings, the second highlights works by our Contemporary artists, and the third is devoted to Sally Swatland. If you receive our hard copy of this newsletter, you will also receive copies of the new brochures during the next few weeks.
Web Site Updates: We have added a number of new works to the web site; included are paintings by: Narcisse V. Diaz de la Peña, Eugene Galien Laloue, Edouard Cortes, and Ugo Giannini. We will also be adding new works by Sally Swatland, John Kuhn, Arthur J. Elsley and Louis Aston Knight in the weeks to come.
Since space is tight this month, I will update you on all our recent sales next month.
Next Month: I am thinking!