We’re confident to say that next year, 2012, will be one filled with some exhibitions to die for. Well, perhaps not literally, if only because you wouldn’t be able to visit any more exhibitions. One such example is Americans in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists on view at Palazzo Strozzi, Florence, Italy, from March 3 to July 15, 2012. The show is designed to mark 500 years since the death of Amerigo Vespucci, the noted Italian explorer, navigator, cartographer and financier, of whom the Americas are generally believed to have derived their name from the feminine Latin version of his first name. Thus the show will focus on the strong ties linking the Old World and the New, as shown through Sargent paintings and the American Impressionists.

Italians are proud to acknowledge the history between America and Italy, particularly the visits American artists paid to Florence and other cities in Tuscany after the American Civil War till the start of World War One. Besides the obvious cultural and architectural differences, the Americans were also taken aback by the appeal and variety of the landscape, which was markedly different from the American countryside, despite the obvious difficulties of such a comparison (America obviously possessed a much greater diversity). The charm of the local people also left a great impact on the expatriate Americans, who often sent positive letters back home.

Trying to exhibit such a large expanse of time would naturally be problematic, so organisers divided the exhibition into five sections. We’ll examine just the first one in this blog post, but next week we’ll feature the other four. Many artists are featured, with Singer Sargent the standout among them. One thing they did share, however, is that their experience in Italy and the European continent gave them crucial experience and training which allowed them to become celebrated painters later on. This argument is made primarily through the linkage of Italian masters and techniques and methods seen reproduced in American oil paintings. On the Italian side, Florentine and Tuscan painters such as Vittorio Corcos, Michele Gordigiani and Telemaco Signorini are highlighted for their refined and urbane depictions, which the upper classes of the time patronised and which ultimately influenced the Americans.

The first section of the exhibition is labelled Room with a View (circa 1908) and indicates the chronological approach of the overall show. Whenever anyone arrives in a city, their first stay is normally in a room that is alien to them: thus the Sargent painting The Hotel Room is the first painting to greet you – although the painting represents just the interior of the room, it is clear the artist is eager to refresh and start exploring the city outside. The scenes outside are luscious, dripping with the type of authentic smell one expects from a reputable seafood market. A Telemaco Signorini oil painting achieves just that with its recreation of a Florentine market, just two views of such a complex, diverse and rich city. Of course, the majority of expatriates would eventually retire to the city’s outskirts for peace and quiet; a scene explored more in our next post.