Italian Landscape

Italian Landscape

1922–1923Oil on canvas84.7 × 90.5 cmEnn Kunila art collection

The paintings Konrad Mägi painted in Italy generally fall into three groups: works from Rome, Venice and Capri. Some were painted on location, but a large part was finished later in his Tartu studio, based on sketches done in Italy, sometimes bearing handwritten notes by Mägi as to which colours should be used. The sketch on which this painting is based is also preserved in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia.

It had been believed, both in the case of this sketch and the final painting, that it depicts a scene from Rome. Yet new research suggests that Mägi’s setting was in the Villa Comunale Park in Naples. The sketch in particular exhibits some typical motifs for this park, such as a fountain with lion heads. The bandstand at the heart of the park and mountains in the distance are also characteristic of Villa Comunale, as no Roman park appears to be a better match. Although Rome’s Giardini Esposizione are mentioned in notes on Mägi’s sketchpad, this painting was not painted there.

Mägi was in Naples only briefly, en route to and returning from Capri in March and April 1922. It is likely that he stayed in a hotel near the port at Via Mezzocannone 53 – at least that address appears in his sketchpad. The Villa Comunale Park is also near the port, a walk away from the hotel.

Compared to the sketch, the painting is less specific; the lions became abstract forms.

The flowering trees may be oleanders. Oleanders bloom all year round, pink and white and widespread in southern European parks. In his Italian sketchpad as well, Konrad Mägi drew some blossoms with a pencil and identified them as “oleander in bloom”. In art history, oleanders have been depicted by Gustav Klimt, Vincent van Gogh and others. Oleanders are also known for being a toxic species. Although in this instance, references to art history as well as to the toxic and hallucinogenic properties of the plant can most likely be disregarded.

The sculpture on the left side is probably one of the many 18th century sculptures in this park that came from the Royal Palace of Caserta and depicted mythological themes. The fountain is known as Fontana della Tazza di Porfido, where a lava stone basin rests on four lion heads and the four busts represent the seasons.