The Ferocious Nudes Of Fausto Pirandello

Unforgiving nudes are the focus of a new exhibition in Venice of the 20th century realist painter, and youngest son of the legendary Sicilian playwright.

Composition with Nudes and Yellow Slippers (1923)
Philippe Dagen

VENICE - The details of the life of Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), the most illustrious playwright of his time, are well-known, especially the following dramatic episodes: In 1903, the deadly collapse of Sicily's sulfur mine that had at first made his family rich ruined it. Soon after, his wife Maria Antonietta Portulano started showing the first signs of delirium. She would be committed to an institution in 1919 after accusing her husband of incest with their daughter. These events are often cited by those looking to explain the works of Pirandello.

They should equally be used to understand the paintings of his son Fausto (1899-1975). Fausto, the youngest of Luigi's three children, had a very harsh painting style, which hasn't been shown much undoubtedly for this reason. But this year, one of the events associated with the 54th Venice Biennale is a showing of his nudes. One might love to see more, as it brings together only 25 works of art. But opportunities to see Fausto Pirandello's are too rare to neglect this one – nothing in Paris, for example, since 1929.

His nudes are among the strangest of the century – brutal, unpleasant, and almost unbearable at times. Think of Fautrier, Dubuffet, of course Bacon, and, perhaps unexpectedly, de Kooning. Adoration and loathing of woman alternate from one instant to the next. There is ample material for psychoanalysis here, if only because of the relationships the painter had with his crazy mother and his tyrannical father. Each painting appears to have narrowly escaped destruction.

Fausto was not supposed to be a painter. In front of his canvasses, his own son, Pier Luigi Pirandello, explains how, called up in the last months of World War I, Fausto returned home safely. Luigi decided that such a war should be commemorated with monuments and as a result, his son should become a sculptor. Thus would he earn the money that the family had needed since the 1903 bankruptcy (though Luigi's pieces did not turn profit before the 1920s). But there was an obstacle: Like his father, an amateur painter, Fausto was leaning toward painting. Despite his father's orders, he tries out paper and canvas, initially in a sort of "Viennese" style – like Schiele or Klimt – then, after 1923, intense realism.

On to Paris

The exhibit opens on nudes laying on unmade beds, the soles of their feet in the foreground, their sex in the center of the canvas, their breasts rolled to the sides, their head thrown back. Pirandello paints and repaints Gustave Courbet's The Origin of the World that he cannot have seen and Le Sommeil, or Sleep, which he has. Intrigued by the reputation of beautiful girls, Pirandello goes to Anticoli Corrado, a village in Lazio, where a young peasant, Pompilia d'Aprile, poses for him. He marries her – a new motive of paternal fury. As for his son's paintings, Luigi writes him to say how much he hates them.

To get away from him, from Mussolini's Italy, who, unlike his father, he refuses to approve of, and to better get acquainted with the art of his time, Pirandello moves to Paris in 1927 with his wife. Their son is born the next year.

He meets Picasso, Pascin, Derain and the Italian "colony" - De Chirico, Savinio, Severini, De Pisis, Campigli. A company whose influence is clear in the nudes of the 1930s, affected by the neoclassicism that was the fashion of the time. But the artist's obsessive relationship with his model sparks an urge within him to desecrate too-perfect beauty until it reaches the grotesque. Though he yields to the will of his father by returning to Italy in 1931, it is to continue his struggle with nudes and not to collect accolades.

According to his son, family life was a succession of dramas. Fausto hires a model and quickly loves her a bit too much. Forced by his wife's suspicion and anger, he gets rid of his muse only to immediately invite another into his studio. This explains the diversity of anatomies and faces, and the ferocious treatment they endured.

In the 1940s, the forms turn hard and break off into sharp corners. The young women pose on their backs, legs crossed in the air or sitting on a stool, their skin giving in to gravity, hands clasped above their sex. The skin is mottled, with red and blue bruises. The paint is dry, granular or crushed by a knife on the cardboard, which Pirandello's preferred to canvas. His pastels aren't softer.

Until his death, as his exhibits became more rare, the experience repeats itself without losing any of its intensity.

Read the original story in French

Photo - Palazzo Grimani

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Merkel's Legacy: The Rise And Stall Of The German Economy

How have 16 years of Chancellor Angela Merkel changed Germany? The Chancellor accompanied the country's rise to near economic superpower status — and then progress stalled. On technology and beyond, Germany needs real reforms under Merkel's successor.

Chancellor Angela Merkel looks at the presentation of the current 2 Euro commemorative coin ''Brandenburg''

Daniel Eckert

BERLIN — Germans are doing better than ever. By many standards, the economy broke records during the reign of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel: private households' financial assets have climbed to a peak; the number of jobs recorded a historic high before the pandemic hit at the beginning of 2020; the GDP — the sum of all goods and services produced in a period — also reached an all-time high.

And still, while the economic balance sheet of Merkel's 16 years is outstanding if taken at face value, on closer inspection one thing catches the eye: against the backdrop of globalization, Europe's largest economy no longer has the clout it had at the beginning of the century. Germany has fallen behind in key sectors that will shape the future of the world, and even the competitiveness of its manufacturing industries shows unmistakable signs of fatigue.

In 2004, a year before Merkel was first elected Chancellor, the British magazine The Economist branded Germany the "sick man of Europe." Ironically, the previous government, a coalition of center-left and green parties, had already laid the foundations for recovery with some reforms. Facing the threat of high unemployment, unions had held back on wage demands.

"Up until the Covid-19 crisis, Germany had achieved strong economic growth with both high and low unemployment," says Michael Holstein, chief economist at DZ Bank. However, it never made important decisions for its future.

Another economist, Jens Südekum of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, offers a different perspective: "Angela Merkel profited greatly from the preparatory work of her predecessor. This is particularly true regarding the extreme wage restraint practiced in Germany in the early 2000s."

Above all, Germany was helped in the first half of the Merkel era by global economic upheaval. Between the turn of the millennium and the 2011-2012 debt crisis, emerging countries, led by China, experienced unprecedented growth. With many German companies specializing in manufacturing industrial machines and systems, the rise of rapidly industrializing countries was a boon for the country's economy.

Germany dismissed Google as an over-hyped tech company.

Digital competitiveness, on the other hand, was not a big problem in 2005 when Merkel became chancellor. Google went public the year before, but was dismissed as an over-hyped tech company in Germany. Apple's iPhone was not due to hit the market until 2007, then quickly achieved cult status and ushered in a new phase of the global economy.

Germany struggled with the digital economy, partly because of the slow expansion of internet infrastructure in the country. Regulation, lengthy start-up processes and in some cases high taxation contributed to how the former economic wonderland became marginalized in some of the most innovative sectors of the 21st century.

Volkswagen's press plant in Zwickau, Germany — Photo: Jan Woitas/dpa/ZUMA

"When it comes to digitization today, Germany has a lot of catching up to do with the relevant infrastructure, such as the expansion of fiber optics, but also with digital administration," says Stefan Kooths, Director of the Economic and Growth Research Center at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel).

For a long time now, the country has made no adjustments to its pension system to ward off the imminent demographic problems caused by an increasingly aging population. "The social security system is not future-proof," says Kooths. The most recent changes have come at the expense of future generations and taxpayers, the economist says.

Low euro exchange rates favored German exports

Nevertheless, things seemed to go well for the German economy at the start of the Merkel era. In part, this can be explained by the economic downturn caused by the euro debt crisis of 2011-2012. Unlike in the previous decade, the low euro exchange rate favored German exports and made money flow into German coffers. And since then-European Central Bank president Mario Draghi's decision to save the euro "whatever it takes" in 2012, this money has become cheaper and cheaper.

In the long run, these factors inflated the prices of real estate and other sectors but failed to contribute to the future viability of the country. "With the financial crisis and the national debt crisis that followed, economic policy got into crisis mode, and it never emerged from it again," says DZ chief economist Holstein. Policy, he explains, was geared towards countering crises and maintaining the status quo. "The goal of remaining competitive fell to the background, as did issues concerning the future."

In the traditional field of manufacturing, the situation deteriorated significantly. The Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft (IW), which regularly measures and compares the competitiveness of industries in different countries, recently concluded that German companies have lost many of the advantages they had gained. The high level of productivity, which used to be one of the country's strengths, faltered in the years before the pandemic.

Kooths, of IfW Kiel, points out that private investment in the German economy has declined in recent years, while the "government quota" in the economy, which describes the amount of government expenditure against the GDP, grew significantly during Merkel's tenure, from 43.5% in 2005 to 46.5% in 2019. Kooths concludes that: "Overall, the state's influence on economic activity has increased significantly."

Another very crucial aspect of competitiveness, at least from the point of view of skilled workers and companies, has been neglected by German politics for years: taxes and social contributions. The country has among the highest taxes on income in Europe, and corporate taxes are also hardly as high as in Germany anywhere in the industrialized world. "In the long run, high tax rates always come at the expense of economic dynamism and can even prevent new companies from being set up," warns Kooths.

Startups can renew an economy and lay the foundation for future prosperity. Between the year 2000 and the Covid-19 crisis, fewer and fewer new companies were created every year. Economists from left to right are unanimous: Angela Merkel is leaving behind a country with considerable need for reform.

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