Flower of the Alps
Signed Attilio Piccirilli
Height 52" (132 cm)
Provenance: Paolino Gerli, New York (acquired directly from the artist); By descent to a pupil of the artist; Christie's, New York, December 5th, 1986, lot 287; Eugene Leone Collection (Mamma Leone Ristorante); Ira Spanierman Gallery, New York; Private Collection, Montauk, NY, 1998
Attilio Piccirilli was born in Massa Carrara, near Pisa, Italy, in 1866. He was born into a family of sculptors; his father was the sculptor Guiseppe Piccirilli and his five brothers all became successful sculptors.
Attilio demonstrated striking artistic talent at a young age. At the age of 14, he was sent to study at the Accademia di San Luca, in Rome. He completed his training in 1885 and joined his father and brothers in the family business.
In 1888, he emigrated to the United States of America and settled in New York City. There he worked with his father and brothers at the successful Piccirilli Studios, which were first based in Manhattan and later at larger premises in the Bronx.
The Piccirillis collaborated with numerous sculptors, such as Daniel Chester French, carving marble versions of their preliminary models. They carved some of the most iconic sculptures, memorials and architectural decorations in north-east America. Their work can be found throughout the United States of America, including the seated figure of Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, The Angel of Death and the Sculptor from the Milmore Memorial, and within the New York Public Library. Their studios were also one of the first importers of expensive marbles, such as Carrara, from Italy to the United States of America.
Piccirilli went on to distinguish himself as a renowned sculptor in his own right. His style emerged distinct from the prevailing artistic taste of the time for eclecticism, frills and artificiality. His biographer, Joseph Vincent Lombardo, writes that ‘Piccirilli’s art stands out boldly for its discipline, simplicity and dignity…His sculpture was and is simply tailored, free from adventurous detail and superficiality…[it] is distinctly personal and highly selective.’ (Lombardo, 1944, p. 2).
Flower of the Alps is an excellent example of this style. This sculpture depicts a full-length, nude female figure stretching across a rocky outcrop. The composition is inspired by a painting called Les Baigneuses (The Bathers) by the Belgian painter, Pierre Olivier Joseph Coomans. In Les Baigneuses, two women bathe beside a rock pool. One is seated with her back facing the viewer, while the other is standing and leaning across a large boulder. However, unlike Coomans’ standing bather, the body of Piccirilli’s figure follows the arched form of the rock, resulting in a simple, yet generous and gracious curve.
Pierre Olivier Joseph Coomans (1816 – 1889), Les Baigneuses, oil on panel, 55. 3 x 39 cm. Image taken from Sotheby’s.
As she leans back and to her left, the figure stretches her right arm out above her, which folds at the elbow. The forearm and hand follow the gentle slope of her hair, seen strewn across the rock face, and angle towards her left arm that reaches to the edge of the outcrop. The impression of her body stretching, arching and reaching is heightened further as she perches on the tips of her toes and bends her left knee slightly to counterbalance her reach.
In this present work we are invited to consider the sensuous surface of the figure’s body and the pleasure of touch. The polished surface of her body contrasts with the coarse texture of the rock. Her head lies heavy and her eyes are shut, as if in a state of pleasure. This contrast of textures lends an aesthetic nod to the work of Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917) and Alfred Boucher (1850 – 1934), both of whom juxtaposed smoothly carved and roughly hewn surfaces in their work.
Piccirilli exhibited Flower of the Alps many times. It was shown at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1917, where it won the George D. Widender Memorial Gold Medal. Replicas of the sculpture were carved in marble and cast in bronze. These featured in major US collections, including those of Lawrence P. Fischer of Detroit, Irving T. Bush of New York City, R. S. Norwood of Indianapolis and Gustave Oberlaender of Reading, Pennsylvania.
Piccirilli died in New York City in 1945. He held memberships at the National Academy of Design, the National Sculpture Society and the Architectural League. His work garnered numerous awards, including a gold medal at the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, held in San Francisco in 1915. His work can be found today in private and public collections, among which are the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York City and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Josef Vincent Lombardo, Attilio Piccirilli: Life of An American Sculptor (New York and Chicago: Pitman Publishing Coorporation, 1944).