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Francesco Spicuzza An Exponent of Beauty and Light: A Family Collection

October 2 - November 10, 2002

 

The West Bend Art Museum is widely recognized as the primary source for artwork and information regarding Carl von Marr, as well as a source for early Wisconsin art and art history. In keeping with that part of the museum's mission, the museum occasionally features an early Wisconsin artist or artists in its lineup of changing exhibitions. The October 2 - November 10, 2002 exhibition features one of Wisconsin's finest and most remembered artists, Francesco Spicuzza (1883-1962). (left: Francesco J. Spicuzza, Self-portrait-1958, c. 1958, oil on board, 19 1/2 x 23 1/2 inches, Collection of Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling)

The West Bend Art Museum is indebted to several individuals who made the exhibition and biographical publication possible. They include the artist's daughter, Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling, who loaned most of the artwork for the exhibition as well as authoring the artist's extensive and comprehensive biography and Joyce Newcomb, who worked in collaboration with Marguerite to write the artist's biography. Joyce helped to organize the exhibition and her family loaned a work of art to the exhibition. The art museum is further indebted to Mr. & Mrs. Roger Mohr and Dennis & Diane Stricker for lending artwork to round out the exhibition.

Readers interested in the 2002 book titled "Francesco J. Spicuzza, Wisconsin Impressionist: Clippings of a Life," by Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling in collaboration with Joyce Newcomb, may obtain a copy of the 151-page illustrated book through the museum bookstore.

 

Following is the Preface from the gallery guide for the exhibition, authored by Thomas D. Lidtke, Executive Director of the West Bend Art Museum, and a brief artist's biography, also from the gallery guide, authored by Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling with collaboration by Joyce Newcomb.

 

Preface
 
Francesco Spicuzza's connection to the West Bend Art Museum is circuitous and actually began many decades ago with another Wisconsin artist the museum exhibits and holds in high esteem, Carl von Marr.
 
When the young Francesco Spicuzza was first developing his skills, the elder von Marr recognized his promising talent. Von Marr encouraged Spicuzza to continue his studies and travel abroad.
 
These two artists must have connected as friends, because later von Marr would paint in Spicuzza's Milwaukee studio upon several of von Marr's many return visits to his hometown. (left: Francesco J. Spicuzza, Red Geraniums, c. 1937, oil on board, 23 1/2 x 29 1/2 inches, Collection of M/M Dennis Stricker)
 
While Spicuzza is best known for his Milwaukee beach scenes created in his cool blue palette, he created in a wide variety of other genre including some winter scenes and many Wisconsin landscapes, which dominate this exhibition.
 
It is Spicuzza's Washington County Iandscape oil sketches that complete his circuitous road back to the West Bend Art Museum. These wonderful, little landscapes exist because the artist eventually bought a summer home on Cedar Lake near West Bend where he would bring his family every summer. While there, he completed numerous scenes of the lake, West Bend and the rolling moraine around the region. Intimate woodland scenes nestled in the kettles of the moraine and hilltop vistas created by receding glaciers provided great inspiration for these summer paintings.
 
Cedar Lake and West Bend were a second home for the family; and Carl von Marr, due to his high ranking in Europe was as good a friend in the art world as a regional artist could find. While these links were established over a half-century ago, vestiges of them are still clearly present.
 
The thought of having an exhibition of Spicuzza's artwork and becoming involved in a publication about the artist seemed to be a natural match for the West Bend Art Museum. This is especially true since the West Bend Art Museum's collection emphasis is the work of Carl von Marr and other important early Wisconsin artists.
 
That was apparent from the start to his daughter, Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling, who graciously offered to loan his artwork for the exhibition, and to contribute to the success of this project. She presented the idea of an exhibition and publication to representatives of the West Bend Art Museum and it soon became apparent to us that not only was this work worthy of public exposure, it also had these serendipitous connections to the region and institution.
 
The paintings in the October 2 - November 10, 2002 exhibition, for the most part, are small-scale oil sketches that provide the viewer and collector with another side of the artist that has rarely been seen before. In fact, only one of the 63 paintings has ever been publicly displayed. The publication presents us with a personal and intimate perspective of the artist's life.
 
Most who know the artist's work are familiar with his vibrant cool blue palette. As a result of the exhibition, we now see his passion for another color, the lush green hues that dominate his regional landscapes, floral garden studies, lake scenes and paintings of Europe.

 

Biography
 
Francesco Spicuzza
Born 1883 in Termini, Sicily
Died 1962 in Milwaukee, WI
 
One of Wisconsin's most prolific artists, Francesco Spicuzza, came to Milwaukee with his parents when he was a child. His early art training began when a wealthy Milwaukee businessman recognized the young teenager's talent and arranged for Spicuzza to have art classes with Wisconsin artist Robert Schade. (left: Francesco J. Spicuzza, The Splash, c. 1920, oil on board, 23 x 29 1/4 inches, Collection of Marguerite Spicuzza Hambling)
 
While in his early twenties, Spicuzza studied with Alexander Mueller at the Milwaukee Art Students' League. Spicuzza painted in his free time but made his living as a lithographer. His employer was forced to terminate his position due to the panic of 1907.
 
Spicuzza was offered an empty room, initially rent-free. And, with his wife's urging, he opened his studio in this space from 1908 until 1911. He then left Milwaukee briefly to study Impressionism for a summer under John Carlson in Woodstock, New York.
 
When Spicuzza returned, he created numerous impressionistic scenes of people enjoying Milwaukee's Bradford and McKinley beaches, as well as florals, still lifes, portraits and nature scenes. He is best remembered for his blue monochromatic beach scenes in pastel. He produced hundreds of works for various levels of the art market. They ranged from small and inexpensive to impressive major works of art. Like several of the early 20th century Wisconsin artists, his work was quite different from the German academic style of the generation before him.
 
Spicuzza taught art to hundreds of Milwaukeeans at the Milwaukee Art Institute and in his studio. In the fifties he taught at the Milwaukee Art Museum which replaced the Milwaukee Art Institute. Throughout his long artistic career, his style changed little and he received numerous regional and some national awards for his work. He was also a member of the Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors.

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