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Pompeo Mariani | La Belle Époque

The 9th of September 1857 Pompeo Mariani (1857-1927) was born in Monza in a house in "Borgo Como" near S. Biagio Church from Martino Mariani and Giulia Bianchi.
His father Martino (1826-1886) ran - together with Gaetano Pellegrino - the Commercial School Mariani-Pellegrini of Monza.
In that school important generations of Lombard industrialists received the first fundamental teachings.
His mother Giulia (1838-1914) was the first daughter of the painter Giosué (1803-1875) and sister of the most famous artist of the Bianchi family, Mosè (1840-1904).

Mariani’s house was often visited by Alessandro Manzoni who gave Martino Mariani one of the first copies of "I promessi Sposi".


Pompeo spends his childhood in the natal town with his elder sister Anna (1856-1937).
After attending a Grammar School he is introduced by his father to the bank clerk career and sent to work for Cavigliani and Oneto Bank in Milan.

Here he meets Aldo Noseda that introduces him in the artistic and cultural circles of the time, where he becomes acquainted with Arrigo Boito, Gaetano Braga, Luigi Gualdo, who regularly attend the Cova and La Scala, and the painters Luigi Conconi and Vespasiano Bignami.
In this period he shows and interest in music and devotes - as a pastime - to the caricatures, revealing to be sharp-witted, but because of a drawing representing the Bank director he is fired and obliged to go back to Monza, 1878.


In 1878 he is again in Milan; thanks to his friend Uberto Dell’Orto he meets the painter Eleuterio Pagliano and, attracted by painting, he asks him for some lessons to find out if he had enough talent, begging him not to let his family know about that.

Pagliano sends him to paint in the open air asking him to reproduce by heart in his studio what he had seen.
It is reported that in the meanwhile Bianchi came to know about the abilities of his nephew thanks to Giuseppe De Nittis that in 1878 had visited Pagliano’s atelier, noticing the works of the young Pompeo.

The uncle pleaded for him with the family who was not in favour with the artistic career and encouraged him to get free inspiration from the Park in Monza and the surroundings, closely following his training.


In 1880 his friend Dell’Orto, with whom he had made an excursion on the Gottardo mountain illustrated in an album, proposed him a travel to Egypt to enrich their painting experiences together with Sallustio Fornaia.

The three men, at the end of that year, went to Brindisi and from here they left for Alexandria of Egypt. The following year in April, while he was painting in the open air, Pompeo was hit by a gust of sand and hurt at the right eye, thus forced to go back to Italy.

His travel experiences in the East were reported in some lively letters sent to the family, published by M. Viscardini on "Il Cittadino" in 1954.
The works made in this period, shown at the Fine Art exhibition in Milan in 1881 and 1882 and the following year in Rome and Nice (here he was awarded with a golden medal), were immediately sold, marking the beginning of the painter’s fortune.

In the following years he will be present at many national and international exhibitions. In the first 80s the artist went to the Riviera Ligure, where he had begun to spend his times since 1875, and he stayed at his sister’s who, married to Ignazio Pitschider, lived in Genova (Genoa) via Fieschi (later she will move to Palazzo Doria, in an apartment near Giuseppe Verdi’s one).

Here Mariani portrayed many views of the harbour and with one of these, "Il saluto del sole morente", he won in 1884 the Principe Umberto prize (The work was bought by Count Edoardo Amman, together with the other painting "Guardie notturne"). The painting "Vaporino rimorchiatore" was bought by the Ministry of Education and was later exposed at the Ministry of Transport and Navigation. In the same year he was awarded with the silver medal at the International Exhibition of London.

In this year he had his first studio at Villa Sala, along the road for Lecco and frequently visited the park, where his uncle Mosè and his cousin Emilio Borsa - Regina’s son, sister of Pompeo’s mother - used to go to paint. Here he made "Cantuccio di Primavera" that, presented at Brera in that year with "Saluto", was bought by the Commendatore Angeli.

1885 - 1895

In 1885 he presented some works in Paris (where he stayed at Goupil and Valadon’s) concerning Egypt and seascapes, winning a golden medal; he took also part at the International Exposition of London with "La notte nel porto di Genova", receiving a silver medal. In the same year he received a diploma as a member of Brera Academy (of whom he will become counsellor in 1897; he will resign in 1905) with the painting "L’onda".

King Umberto bought in 1886 another view of the port entitled "La sera", exposed at Brera in 1885. In 1886 Pompeo was awarded with the silver medal in Liverpool for the painting "Acqua salsa", but was very upset for his father’s death. He moved with his mother in the House of Prince Porcia (now via Volta 4 where he will stay till 1899) and worked hard, presenting his works at different artistic exhibitions where they were immediately sold.

Besides the works set in the countryside of Monza and the seascapes made in Liguria, he made some portraits among which it is worth mentioning the one of a woman in 1883, that now belongs to the City Council Museums of Monza, the one of Garibaldi reproduced on "Illustrazione italiana" in 1885, the one of the Captain of the Alpines Uboldi dè Capei in 1887 and of different characters of the middle and upper bourgeoisie in Milan and Monza.

In the meanwhile he was awarded, in 1888, with a golden medal at the 3rd International Kunstausstellung of Monaco for the painting "Tramonto nel porto di Genova"; here it was also presented "Sorge la luna" (Nubi di sera).
In 1889 he was commissioned a portrait of King Umberto for the Palatina Chapel in Palermo and the painter went to Rome to portray him. He got the diploma "Mention Honorable" at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889.

He did not stop painting landscapes: "D’autunno al cader le foglie" was bought in 1890 by the King.
The landscape vein was enriched by new motives that he had the opportunity of experiencing thanks to his staying around 1890 in the surroundings of Lago Maggiore at Gignese, place often visited by his uncle Mosè Bianchi, Gignous, Carcano, Dell’Orto and Gola.
A painting made here, entitled "Il torrente", presented in Palermo in 1891 was awarded with a silver medal at the General National Exhibition of Palermo and bought by the Royal House.

At the same time he did not neglect to visit the Riviera Ligure: in 1892 he was in Genova (Genoa) again where the Colombo celebrations were taking place and stayed here in August, September and October, making different paintings inspired to this subject, later presented at different events, where they were received with great success.

He won the silver medal at the Italian-American Exhibition in 1892.
At this period belongs one of the rare paintings with a historical subject, the ideal reproduction of Garibaldi’s departure from the rock of Quarto (Genova), that in 1892 was sent to the Fine Art Exhibition of Rome, where it was bought by the Ministry of Education to decorate the Senate Palace.

In 1893 he was in Rome again for another painting of King Umberto, commissioned by the Italian Embassy in Berlin. In this same year he took part at the World Exhibition of Chicago, important international event, thanks to which he made himself known overseas (in 1800 he had already sent some works to New York). With new themes he presented his works at the 2nd Milan Triennial Exhibition in 1894; here he also presented a series of works of hunting subject performed at the Zelata near Pavia: "Buon colpo di spingarda" he participated at Prince Umberto Prize, "Una lancia del Ticino" was bought by King Umberto, "Nei boschi della Zelata" was sold to the Earl Ernesto Turati "Una doppietta alle anitre" to Emma Von willer.

In this area were also achieved paintings that describe the work of the rice weeders in the rice-fields of the surroundings.
He sent these works to various national and international exhibitions and got good results and positive critics and the sales kept on increasing.

1897 - 1906

Between 1897 and 1898 Mariani made the important series of eight paintings to decorate the great hall of Palazzo del Dottor Grossi in Genoa (Genova), now housed at the Gallery of Modern Art in Genoa.
In 1898 he was at Bordighera, place that the painter had visited since 1889, and where he will move in the last years, described in various works.

Here he received many commissions for portraits by English people and other foreign people that used to spend their holidays on the Riviera: he made the portrait of the Admiral Conybeare and of Lady Buddicomb and her daughter, that will be exposed at the Royal Academy in 1899, and many others.
In 1899 his uncle Mosè was hit by a stroke in Verona where he had been running the Cignaroli Academy and he replaced him for a period.
In 1900 he came back to Milan and here he worked in a studio in corso Magenta 88, in the house of Baron Laugier, that he will keep till 1903.

In this period he showed an interest towards the sport events in Milan and the places on fashion at the time in the city: he made some portraits set in San Siro, in cafés and theatres.
In these years he also devoted himself to the monotype and to the etching, this last had been a passion since 1879.

In March 1904, he was very upset for the loss of his uncle Mosè to whom he was deeply bound.
Pompeo organized an exhibition to commemorate his uncle’s death - housed at the National Exposition in Milan for the inauguration of the Sempione in 1906 - where he also presented his works with new subjects, getting the diploma of merit.

1907 - 1913

In June 1907 he got married to the lyrical singer Marcellina Cannoni, nicknamed Nana, met in Bordighera thanks to his friend and colleague Giuseppe Ferdinando Piana.
In the meanwhile (around 1904) he moved his studio and his dwelling of Milan in a big apartment in via Montenapoleone 42, in the parish house of the next Church of San Francesco da Paola, furnishing it with the objects and the ancient and new paintings of his collection, and he will keep the house till 1918.

In 1909 he bought from the countess Fanshawe a little villa in Bordighera on the hills in via della Madonnetta where he spent most part of the year: here soon after (1911) will be built - under the direction of the architect R. Winter - the new studio of the painter, the so called "Specola" that will be furnished with his works, and with the works of his colleagues, collected all along his life.

From Bordighera he often went to Montecarlo, attracted by the elegant life and the fashionable people that used to meet in the halls of the Casino and of the Cafés.
From these places and from the nature of the Riviera he got new ideas for his art: in many paintings he described the frivolous atmosphere of the Casino, represented in different ways the seaside near Bordighera, the life of fishermen and of the farmers of olive trees in the area.

In 1910 he participated at the International Exposition of Buenos Aires and New York. In 1913 a series of these new themes was sent to the "Società Amatori e Cultori delle Belle Arti" of Rome for a personal exhibition which will get a great success.
The Ministry of Education bought on that occasion a subject set in Montecarlo, "La sala dei passi perduti" now housed at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome.

1914 - 1920

In 1914 he was hit by the death of his mother. He spent the years of the war between Milan and Bordighera.
Here his work was really appreciated and his paintings were bought by eminent personalities from different countries that spent their time on the Riviera.

In 1918 he moved his studio and dwelling place in Milan to Trivulzio Palace in piazza Sant’Alessandro 4, but spent most of the year in Bordighera.
In these years he did not care about taking part at expositions and events, but worked hard: he recorded everything stroke him, filling the pages of his album, as he had used to do also in the past.

He continued to express himself through different techniques, with great passion. He was regularly visited by his colleagues and friends; also Queen Margherita used to pay visit to him in his residence and he made a fast little portrait of her, now housed at the International Institute of Liguria Studies in Bordighera.

He did not portray works of religious subject, excepted a resurrected Christ made for the Araldi Chapel in Uscio as votive offering for his wife’s recovery that here had been cured.

1923 - 1925

He appeared again to the public in 1923 with a personal exhibition at the Pesaro Gallery of Milan that collected a great number (348) of his paintings made at different times of his life: "Ricordi del Cairo" (that went back to 1881) "Studi ed impressioni di Genova" (1886-1917), "Ricordi di Monza" (1884-1918), "Impressioni di caccia alla Zelata" (1890-1904), "Ricordi di Milano" (1898-1917), "Vita di Bordighera" (1888-1922), "Studi ed impressioni di Montecarlo" (1901-1919) and "Ritratti e studi diversi". In 1925 he finally settled in Bordighera.


The morning of the 25th of January 1923 he died because of an acute bronchopneumonia with the comfort of his wife and of her daughter, Maria Caronni Lo mazzi. The corpse was transferred to the cemetery of Monza with a solemn ceremony.
In 1956 a posthumous exhibition was housed at Palazzo del Parco of Bordighera, while two years later (1958) the City Council of Monza organized a commemorative exhibition to celebrate the centenary of the birth of the author, that was followed in 1978 by the one concerning the commemoration of the first fifty years of his death.

Pompeo Mariani in his life exposed at 480 exhibitions of very high level (Biennale of Venice, Promotrici, Genova, Firenze, Torino, Milano, Brera and Permanente, Monaco di Baviera, Londra, Parigi, Budapest, Berlino, Lugano, Lucerna, Zurigo, San Pietroburgo, Bruxelles, Gand, Saint Louis, Montecarlo) receiving eleven golden medals with relative honour mentions and nine silver medals. | Anna Ranzi with the collaboration of Carlo Bagnasco, Pompeo Mariani Foundation