Edited by Luca Fiorentino

For Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, the free use of lines and marks was not only the basis and structure of his stylistic architecture in the field of drawing, but a creative and inventive necessity.

In fact, much of his work on paper reveals a real expressive urgency, a natural passion for mark-making (whether cursive in pen or fluid brushstroke) that recalls that of his great predecessors: Tiepolo father and son.

On the one hand his direct link with that tradition is evident by observing his drawings. While on the other, the cultural foundation of his masterly technique is deeply rooted in the Veneto tradition: the painting of mythological and sacred figures, and of landscapes or views in all their variations, including the architectural capriccio1. The artists Bison often nodded to in his work were thus Francesco Guardi, Canaletto, Marco Ricci and Francesco Zuccarelli.

The arc of his artistic career that made him an important figure not only in Veneto, but also in Friuli, Ferrara and Milan (where he lived from 1831 until his death), denotes a spirit capable of creating his own personal interpretations of the aforementioned masters.

We can imagine sketchbooks completely and meticulously filled with the products of his untiring artifice, jealously protected, because those pages contained Bison’s fantasies, the fruit of his imagination. It is difficult to find a drawing that was truly preparatory for a finished work. Bison preferred to jot down his ideas on paper and then develop them in later phases.

The sheet analysed here sums up the best characteristics of Bison’s drawing. After a quick, concise sketch of his idea in black chalk, he worked with pen and ink with a sort of creative frenzy, conveyed in marks that alternate between compact and decisive ones, and lighter, more spaced out ones.

This process of development and elaboration makes his figurations appear to the viewer as a sort of alchemical mystery in which the juxtaposed elements, albeit vibrant and succinct, generate a figurative discourse that becomes an image. Watercolouring here is not just color or background. It allows the artist to lend his marks a chiaroscuro effect and quality, creating dark shadows, half-tones and bright highlights to enhance the three-dimensionality of his work on paper2.

The sheet may be preparatory for one of the many villa decorations Bison was commissioned to paint during his long career. The drawing recalls the type of landscape view or architectural capriccio that can be admired, for example, at Villa Spineda in Breda di Piave (1792 ca), slightly earlier than the presumed dating for this sheet, in which one or more of the figures in the foreground stand out against the architectural structures and ruins3.

1 On the paintings and drawings see at least: Aldo Rizzi, Disegni del Bison, Bologna, 1976; Fabrizio Magani, G.B. Bison, Soncino (CR), 1993;

Giuseppe Bernardino Bison pittore e disegnatore, catalogue from the exhibition curated by Giuseppe Bergamini, Fabrizio Magani, Giuseppe Pavanello, Udine, Chiesa di San Francesco October 24, 1997-February 15, 1998, Milan, 1997;

Giuseppe Pavanello, Alberto Craievich, Daniele D’Anza, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, Fondazione CRTrieste, Trieste, 2012.

2 The sheet in question can be compared with one conserved in the DGS of the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, 304 x 216 mm, signed on the lower right, and with two other sheets in private collections, published along with the first one cited in: Aldo Rizzi, Disegni del Bison, cit., nn. 54, 58, 64.

3 See: Giuseppe Pavanello, Alberto Craievich, Daniele D’Anza, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison, cit., p. 199 and figures on pp. 97-98.

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