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Umberto Boccioni, la madre che lavora

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UMBERTO BOCCIONI (Reggio Calabria 1884 - Sorte del Chievo, Verona 1916) MIA MADRE CHE LAVORA, 1907
Drypoint. Bellini 2004, 14. Dated in the plate, in reverse, 1907. 372 x 310 mm. Printed in black ink on thick wove paper. Numbered in pencil at the left of bottom margin 5/10/II, inscribed in pencil at the right U. Boccioni / mamma che lavora davanti alla / finestra. Inscribed by Giuseppe Dal Pian on the verso Questa acquaforte di Umberto Boccioni / "Mamma che lavora davanti alla fine / stra" é originale di seconda tiratura, / 5/10. In my opinion the signature and title are not by Boccioni's hand. I find quite interesting the numbering, which appears in another impression sold in 1997 (see below) which had the peculiar large oxidation which I describe here. Giuseppe dal Pian, the husband of Licia Boccioni, became Amelia's heir after her death in 1964. So his note should be dated after 1964.
This print is possibly the most celebrated work by Boccioni as a printmaker, when, before the birth of Futurism, he was still operating within a realism which Lamberto Vitali called, in 1930, un poco acre e sensuale (a bit sour and sensual). Margherita Sarfatti, remembering her first meeting with the young Boccioni, described the print as un’acquaforte, amorosamente e diligentemente incisa, di vecchia popolana intenta a cucire (an etching lovingly and diligently engraved, of an old common woman intent on sewing).
In his most recent contribution to the study of Boccioni's prints, Paolo Bellini has identified four variants of this print. It is not always easy to detect these variants, which are based on tiny variations in a few areas. The impression which I am presenting here, conversely, shows a significant variation, apparently never described before. In fact, our impression shows signs of extensive oxidation, which generally appears as a stippling but that, on the ledge in front of the left knee of the mother, creates a significant stain. Another impression of the print, showing the same oxidation, was sold at Christie's in Milan on May 19, 1997 (lot 141). It is interesting to note that it was described as numbered 8/10/II.
I propose here to include this variant between the A variant described by Bellini and his C variant, which belongs to the posthumous edition pulled by Boccioni's sister Amelia in 1931 (see Bellini 2004, p. 22). Examples of this edition are at the Bertarelli collection in Milan (Mod. m. 6-10) and at the Gabinetto Disegni e Stampe degli Uffizi, Florence (101065). I am not able to enter Bellini's variants B and D in this sequence, because I can't identify with certainty any impression which fits the description for these variants. The image presented here below compares the photographs of three different impressions. A: the impression at the British Museum. B: our impression. C: the 1931 impression at the GDSU.

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Bellini indicates some engraved marks that tend to weaken with the progress of printing. These elements are:
a light vertical line near the right of the window sash, which falls down over the bottle;
a horizontal line above the lower left crossbar of the chair, accompanied, above, by two short horizontal parallel lines;
a pentimento at the bottom of the right rear leg of the chair.
The sequence that we propose is congruous with the weakening of the engraved marks as indicated by Bellini

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Often described as an etching with drypoint the print has been, in fact, mainly worked with the drypoint; for this reason the strength of the drypoint's burrs is a key element for ordering the sequence of the impressions. In A the burrs are strong and rich. In B the large oxidation appears and the burrs are less strong but still well visible. In C only light traces of the oxidation remain, possibly after an intervention with the burnisher, and the traces of burrs are faint.
I could directly compare our impression with the one at the GDSU. During my visit I did some snapshots of details of both the prints.

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These photos demonstrate that the edition of 1931, purchased in 1934 by the Uffizi, was pulled after the printing of our impression; in fact it shows just faint traces of the large oxidation and the burrs are less visible.
A number of questions arise about the written note by Giuseppe dal Pian regarding the second edition. In his research Paolo Bellini (Bellini 2004, p. 22) describes a second posthumous edition of ten, in black ink, for at least 11 plates, numbered in pencil. Bellini proposes for this edition a dating around 1955. If our impression belongs to this second edition that date cannot be correct. I think it is noteworthy that in the 1931 edition the handwritten note by Amelia Boccioni on the verso precisely describes the impression as tiratura postuma. Conversely dal Pian describes our impression just as originale di seconda tiratura.

Bibliography: Paolo Bellini, Umberto Boccioni. Catalogo ragionato delle incisioni, degli ex-libris, dei manifesti e delle illustrazioni, Milan 2004.

 

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