The Artwork of the Month - April 2023

Primo Conti
(Firenze 1900 - Fiesole 1988)
Siao Tai Tai / La Cinese, 1924
Oil on canvas, 100 x 69 cm
Inv. AM 26

Primo Conti - Siao Tai Tai / La Cinese (particolare)

Primo Conti from Toscana is the artist featured in April's #operadelmese column with his painting Siao Tai Tai / La Cinese, oil on canvas dated 1924.

A seated female figure with oriental features emerges from the dark background of the composition, looking towards the viewer. She wears a precious headdress, as elegantly decorated as the exotically styled robe. In her hands resting in her lap she holds an open fan. The painting depicts Liung Juk, the Chinese governess of Mrs. Harry Quien, with whom the artist had an intense love affair. The same woman is also depicted in two other works: Liung Juk (Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi) and The Bourgeois of Canton (Contini-Bonaccossi Collection). This story is mentioned in the 1983 memoir The Blackbird's Gorge.

The composition is pyramid-like and appears fixed and hieratic, due to the sharp outline of the contour and the clear colour schemes, the contemplative expression of the face and the clear, uniform light, as if crystallised.

This painting refers to a period in Conti's career when the artist, after a self-taught education based on the Macchiaioli and Cézanne, and after the Secessionist and Futurist experience, joined the 'Novecento' movement. The rigour of his style is the result of a personal reinterpretation of European Neoclassicism and a return to portraiture and composition, looking in particular to the line and colour of Ingres, while maintaining - as the painter himself declares - the structural and volumetric achievements matured in the wake of Futurism.

In 1924, the work, although its exotic subject matter did not fully meet the thematic criteria of the competition, was awarded the Ussi Prize in Firenze, bringing the painter sudden notoriety. It was then presented at the III Roman Biennale in 1925, to great critical acclaim, and purchased on that occasion by the Governorate of Rome for the civic collections.

Return to the section > The Galleria d'Arte Moderna artwork of the month