December 23, 2016

Discovering Recco and Fragonard at the Met

A Cat Stealing Fish, oil on canvas, late 1660s, by Giuseppe Recco
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
After confession on Reconciliation Monday, I decided to take the afternoon off from work and treat myself to a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It felt like its been ages since my last visit and I wanted to see the Museum’s resplendent Angel Tree and Baroque Neapolitan Crèche installation before Christmas. (See pics here)
On display in the Medieval Sculpture Hall, the towering spruce is adorned with a host of heavenly angels heralding the birth of Christ. At the base, Salvator di Franco’s (active 18th century) glorious Nativity is flanked by a multitude of exotic figures attributed to some of Naples’ finest sculptors, including Lorenzo Mosca (d. 1789) and Giuseppe Sanmartino (1720-1793). 
I couldn’t resist doing a little exploring, so I made my way to the European Painting Galleries on the second floor to see some of my old favorites. I’m glad I did, because while perusing the magnificent collection I came across Giuseppe Recco’s (1634-1695) animated still life, A Cat Stealing Fish. I’m not sure why I never noticed this painting before, but considering its unfortunate position above the door head in Gallery 623, I’m lucky to have spotted it during this visit.
The most famous member of a family of artists, Giuseppe Recco is regarded as the leading Neapolitan still-life painter of his day. Specializing in pictures of fish, this canvas, measuring 38 x 50 1/2 inches, shows a cat greedily eating an octopus. The work, dating from the late 1660s, clearly demonstrates the artist’s virtuoso skill in rendering different textures.
As luck would have it, Recco’s dramatic and naturalistic still life would not be my only surprise of the day.
Nearby, in Galleries 691-693, is the ongoing exhibit Drawing Triumphant, a celebration of Jean Honoré Fragonard’s (1732-1806) achievements as a master draftsman. To my delight, among the array of works on display, three are from the artist’s second visit to Naples in the spring of 1774, when he was at the height of his prowess. 
Focusing on the people of the streets, the Frenchman drew two red chalk studies of fisherman and a brush and brown wash portrait of an unknown Neapolitan woman in picturesque dress. Often dismissed by his contemporaries as preparatory work for paintings, Fragonard felt many of his drawings were stand-alone pieces. This remarkable exhibit, which closes on January 8, 2017, proves him right.
Portrait of a Neapolitan Woman, brush and brown wash over faint traces of black chalk underdrawing, 1774
(Left) A fisherman pulling a net, red chalk, 1774.
(Right) A fisherman leaning on an oar, red chalk, 1774