Bread and Onions

“In these days of world economic crisis, one often reads that the best investment to make is a work of art. Investors are thus advised to forget their usual interests which no longer offer them a guaranteed return.

Given today’s outlook, that very breed of market seems to have developed a life of its own, independent of the works of art themselves which have become simply “things” to trade in order to justify the movement of large sums of money — exchanges between companies who intend to speculate — easy money — with mark ups that become increasingly avaricious with every change of hand.

This predictable degeneration, where dealers and critics can rely upon the complicity of fashionable museums and galleries, has yielded an ignorant public, which consumes art as if it were any other good.

Large museums are seen and visited as ‘zoos’ of art; the public gathers before the usual, famous names, those icons created by a financial world attempting to lend style and justification to its cultural speculation.

I am sure that Van Gogh, Modigliani, Morandi, etc. would be shocked to discover the exorbitant prices paid for their works.”

I will tell you instead how the “market” began for Eugenio Pardini, the painter.

In the early days of January 1962, after the Christmas holidays, Eugenio had returned to work in the “baracconi” (ugly buildings which the city had set aside for building and restoring the floats from the Carnival of Viareggio). His work as a painter didn’t allow us a decent life, even though Pardini’s successes dated back to ‘48 when he first participated in the Biennale di Venezia – to be followed by two more, the XXV and XXVIII editions. He had already taken part in the Quadriennale di Roma: in 1943, 1948, 1956, 1960 and been awarded at the Internazionale Marinara in Genoa in 1951, the Biennale Nazionale in Pontedera 1951, 1954, 1955, 1961 – at the National Exhibitions “Il Fiorino” in Florence in 1960, and National Exhibition “Modigliani Prize” (always awarded), 1955, 1958, 1959.

At the time, we lived in Viareggio, in Via Machiavelli number 46, a small apartment carved out of a larger one, which had been repartitioned into three parts by the other heirs, where he was born—a house typical of Viareggio, with very high ceilings, and an internal garden with a small house bordering the neighboring properties.

He did the work himself even though he had no special expertise to do a decent job — he had gained enough experience working for the Carnival, not to mention the many other jobs he’d performed over the course of his life.

“In his house in Viareggio, made up of stairways with rope handrails and flying balconies, I asked myself one April morning of brilliant sunshine and breeze that played with the great bunting of laundry hanging from the ceilings, wherever Eugenio Pardini had come by that almost religious feeling for the sea… Pardini, a reserved man of few words, showed me his works in silence, the oils and frescoes, large and small, which piled up to cover the walls of his house and from the back of the studio, placed at the foot of another narrow staircase, in a small courtyard that looked like a well and was like the hold of a ship. So it was described by the famous art critic, Renato Richetti, who came to visit him.

That January in 1962, we were at the table having lunch when the doorbell rang.

We looked hesitantly at one another, as that certainly wasn’t a time of frequent visits. Then, after a few seconds I pressed the automated door opener and up the steep staircase which led straight to the third floor, came two figures who would prove fundamental in the life of our family and for Eugenio’s artistic career. A dear friend from Florence had brought Mario Lebole with him to visit us; an important clothing manufacturer and refined art connoisseur.

Rather than finish eating, we hurried to set up a few paintings on chairs so that he could see them.

A smile lit up Mario’s face and didn’t diminish until we’d shown him the last painting in the house. He stared intensely at those paintings in silence, and we could discern a certain excitement on his face. He hugged my father and selected six paintings; he paid a million liras for each for them.

He left no sooner than he had arrived, limping down the stairs. “I’ll have the company send a truck to come pick up those paintings,” he said, and retreated behind the door. Eugenio was still at the top of the stairs, standing there with the money in his hand, my mother was sitting down drying the tears from her eyes.

“Even if we have to eat bread and onions, you’re going to leave the Carnival and dedicate yourself to painting!” said my mother to Eugenio.

With that money, we paid our bills at the grocery store, squared up with the butcher, the vegetable seller and refurbished our house. Eugenio left his job with the Carnival to embark on a new adventure, which would only end with his death.

That is how Eugenio’s market opened, without gallery owners, dealers or auctioneers, and thrived on the faith and affection of his buyers, and the very desire to surround oneself with the beautiful things that Pardini’s paintings conveyed.

He enjoyed the assistance of real patrons, who followed him step by step throughout his research, encouraging him, financing him, recommending his works to others. That was how he gained access to the most important exhibition sites in Italy and abroad: The Museo Degli Uffizi in Florence, the Palazzio Dei Diamanti, the Palazzo Strozzi, the Palazzo della Cultura in Valenza Po, the Fondazione Viani, “La Versiliana” palace with the sponsorship of all the towns in the Versilia, at the Palazzo Ducale in Colorno, the Palazzo Paolina in Viareggio, the Palazzo Rebellini in Acqui Terme, the Region of Tuscany’s Palazzo Panciatichi, the Palazzo Collacchioni in Capalbio…and the recognition of the best critics: Mario De Micheli, Franco Russoli, Mario Tobino, Diego Valeri, Franco Antonicelli, Enzo Carli, Silvio Micheli, Leonida Repaci, Raffaele Degrada, Emilio Paoli, Ruggero Orlando, Dino Carlesi, Piero Pacini, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and many others. All of them became his friends and all of them aspired to possess one of his works, even if very small.

Pardini’s paintings didn’t make the rounds of markets and marketers, but they are hung on the walls of his admirers, who wouldn’t part with them for any reason in the world.

Eugenio never worried about building a “market” because he never needed one. Perhaps not many people will know his name, or find him present among the modern “art fairs”, but his life shone on many others as an example of an open and generous artist, always ready to give away a painting when he could see that that person understood the beauty of his work, but could not buy it.

As the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko said: “Your painting, dear maestro, has become a part of my family.”

Bruno Nencioni Pardini

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