MESDAG & MANCINI at Mesdag Collection in The Hague

Antonio Mancini, detail of The Sick Child, 1875. Mesdag Collection

MUSEUM CLOSED UNTIL 31st MARCH. Then check for updates.

Now nearly forgotten, but once well-known throughout Europe: Italian artist Antonio Mancini (1852 – 1930). The Hague artists and art collectors Willem and Sientje Mesdag spotted Mancini’s talents early on.

They started to financially assist him. Close to 150 paintings and drawings were dispatched to the Mesdags. Some they kept, many they exhibited; plenty were sold. Time to introduce Mancini, one of the most important 19th century Italian painters, to a larger public again!

The first work by Mancini which impressed Mesdag was “The Sick Child” (1871). He bought it from Parisian art dealers Goupil & Cie. Goupil had only signed on Mancini a year earlier. The French firm bought and sold works by Neapolitan painters because the artists were renowned for their lively, realistic and colourful works.

At the time, Mancini was in his early twenties. Born in Rome to a poor family, it was noticed he had considerable talents. Mancini started attended the art academy in Naples, aged 12.

Though most of his works are lively and colourful, Mesdag wrote Mancini that the expression of “The Sick Child” (1875) had appealed to him. Was this because the sick Italian urchin reminded Mesdag of his and Sientje’s young son who had died in 1871?

Mesdag bypassed art-dealers and contacted Mancini directly. Over the next twenty years, he regularly offered money in exchange for whatever sketches and paintings Mancini was willing to part with. A few of the letters, exchanged over a period of twenty years, are displayed in this exhibition – but mecenas and artist were never to meet.

“The Sick Child” is now displayed on the ground floor of the Mesdags’ former home in The Hague. Before coming across it, visitors pass two small self-portraits of Mancini. One seems to hint at a dual-personality: a serious artist and a happy-go-lucky ‘Bacchus’. As with van Gogh, much is made of Mancini’s fragile mental health – instead of his wonderful and modern art.

As for all the children in the first few rooms: curator Adrienne Quarles van Ufford pointed out, that lacking money to afford models, Mancini paid street urchins to model or used relatives. “Lost in Thought” (1889 – 1890) shows Mancini’s niece; while a nephew was used for “The Birthday” (1885).

This beautifully arranged exhibition takes visitors through important stages in Mancini’s life. From humble Neapolitan beginnings, Mancini moved to Rome. He rented a studio near the Spanish Steps. Here he found flower girls willing to model for him, as in “Smelling flowers”.

Next is a replica of Mancini’s studio. It illustrates his obsession with colours and reality. He achieved this by using his “graticola” system. A few of the works displayed here, still show this grid. Like some modern artists, Mancini also experimented by adding glittering particles and objects to his works, using his fingers and applying paint thickly.

What did his contemporaries think of this? Read the quotes in the stairwell, before climbing to the second part of the exhibition. Do you think Jozef Israels is right, or the person who called it “barbaric”? Or do you agree with Mesdag: I am satisfied …

The map on the first floor shows, Mancini became a sought-after artist. He spent time in Paris, Berlin, the Netherlands, Ireland even and painted for wealthy patrons. For by now, Mesdag was not the only mecenas: meet Hugh Lane, the Marquis del Grillo and others. Here is Mancini himself again, but painted by famous society artist John Singer Sargent.

My favourite here: the pastel portrait of Yeats. Though Mancini’s “testament” is likely more important. It not only is a late self-portrait, but includes the names of people who mattered a lot to Mancini. And look, among Degas, Lady Gregori Ponsonby, and many others pretty near the top is Mesdag.

The last room shows a video as well as photos. The latter not only show Mancini slowly becoming an important 19th century artist. He is also captured, using his “graticola” system. Throughout the museum’s permanent collection are more works by Mancini.  Kate  10th March 2020

Mancini, Quirky and Extravagant runs until 28th June.