DescriptionGIOVANNI BATTISTA TORRIGLIA (Italian, 1858-1937)
The Soap Bubble
Oil on canvas
29 x 43 inches (73.7 x 109.2 cm)
Signed lower right: G.B. Torriglia
Captain Clyde Arthur Barbour, purchased in Florence, circa 1930;
By descent through the family of the above to the present owner.
Best known for his colorful and endearing depictions of rural family life, Giovanni Battista Torriglia is among the most prominent Italian genre painters of the nineteenth century. Born in Genoa in 1857, the young artist eventually moved to Florence to complete his artistic training. Distinguishing himself from many studio artists of the time, Torriglia received and executed a number of commissions to decorate the interiors of several churches throughout Italy. It was in Florence that Torriglia became friendly with the artist Nicolo Barabino (1832-1891), and focused his artistic attention on subjects of religious and academic import.
In 1901, Torriglia settled in Tuscany, where he would remain for a number of years. During this period, the artist gradually abandoned religious and historical subjects and took up a focus on the subject that would bring him great acclaim and success: pleasing narrative scenes depicting multi-generational family life. Like those of his contemporaries Gaetano Chierici and Eugenio Zampighi, Torriglia's compositions depict modest, rural households rather than the aristocratic subjects that dominate many Victorian-era paintings. These compositions conveyed the notion that happiness is derived not from material wealth, but rather from the simple, tender moments shared between family members that comprise domestic life.
In The Soap Bubble, a young boy and girl, presumably brother and sister, happily entertain a baby sibling by blowing bubbles of soap. Several generations of family members look on in delight, enjoying the leisurely moment along with the children. In addition, an older male relative pauses and bends over to feed visiting pigeons that have joined the happy scene. Sunlight streams through the open window to illuminate the drifting soap bubbles and the faces of the figures, along with other still-life elements of the rural home, which include baskets, a lantern, copper kitchenware, and ceramic pottery. Symbolically, an image of the Madonna and Child hangs on the wall overseeing the scene.
The present work epitomizes the qualities for which Torriglia is most celebrated: a masterful attention to detail, a focus on brilliant color, and the ability to portray a domestic narrative in a heartwarming, tender manner. The Soap Bubble is a superb example of Torriglia's timeless and pleasing compositions, which resonate with present-day viewers just as they did with Victorian audiences during the artist's lifetime. The Soap Bubble was purchased in Florence circa 1930 by Captain Clyde Arthur Barbour, for whom the Barbours Cut Terminal in the Port of Houston, Texas, was named. The work hung for years in the Captain's stately and historic plantation estate, Oaklawn Manor, in Franklin, Louisiana. The painting has been passed down through the family to the present owner, who is a direct descendent of Captain Barbour.
Unlined canvas; faint stretcher creases along edges and down center of canvas visible under raking light; minor frame abrasions and accretions along extreme edges; stable surface; under UV exam, appears to be minor in-painting along far left seated boy's shoulder, in his forehead, and in bowl in his left hand, also appears to be minor over-paint in right hand of seated man holding child and a small fleck of in-painting in child's hair, several quarter-size spots of in-painting down seated woman's back and in her apron, and possible minor over-paint in far right seated man's right hand; areas of background may possibly fluoresce, but old varnish layer makes painting surface difficult to read; Framed Dimensions 39 X 53 Inches
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