The work “Il bosco di Portici” is significant for the artist Antonino Leto. The painting still has the order number “153” with which it was cataloged on the occasion of the Turin Promoter of 1882, where the artist also exhibited one hundred and ten years in Ischia. Preserved in the collection of a noble Turin family for over a century, the work constitutes a precious piece to reconstruct the evolution of Leto.
The subject was known – “a child struggles to pull rebel sheep in a wood” (Rutelli sd, c.8) – but not the stylistic relationship he had with the painting with the same title in the Gallery of Modern Art in Palermo, which was sent to the Florence Promoter in 1884.
1881 is an important year for Leto: after the training with the realism of Francesco Lojacono and Filippo Palizzi of the beginnings, the improvement of that language implemented in contact with the avant-garde of the Resina school, and the comparison with the mercantile logic of large realities such as Florence and Paris, the painter was preparing for the definitive move to Capri, which took place the following year.
It is a critical moment of great maturity, therefore, where Leto responded by elaborating bucolic themes (In the woods of Portici) to the influences of the market in his recent experiences – on the one hand the dictates of the Pisani Gallery and on the other those of the Maison Goupil – or inspired by the realism of marine life (I funari di Torre del Greco of 1883, Rome, National Gallery of Modern Art).
In both cases it is possible that this “immersion in nature” has its genesis within a “feeling of inadequacy to the changes in modern society” (Bietoletti 2007, p. 100) that only the voluntary spiritual “exile” Capri will soothe. As has been noted, the example of Francesco Paolo Michetti (Bonaccorso 1979, p. 62) was decisive for the bucolic scenes: if the elegant city views created in Florence and Paris revealed the imprint of Telemaco Signorini and Giuseppe De Nittis respectively , the rural subjects of these years had the Abruzzese master as an explicit term of reference.
But if in the 1884 version the debt to Michetti is univocal – think of the Return from the Fields of 1875 (formerly the Chiarandà collection) – in the version presented here another irrefutable component emerges. The refinement and optical clarity with which every detail is brought to the fore on the canvas reveals the relationship with the theories of the Resina school. Adriano Cecioni preached within the “republic” of Portici: “I made him observe that in nature everything is distinct, well made, scrupulously finished; and therefore a painting must have a calm and gentle aspect, simplicity of workmanship, no skill ”(Cecioni 1932, p. 206).
However, in the wood of Portici, contradicting in part the indications of Cecione, the skill is certainly not lacking, clearly visible in the surface tapped with unspeakable skill and at times scratched with agile carelessness with the back of the brush. Skill that also derived from Michetti together with that fantastic lightness of inspiration that definitively cleared the work of accents of too savory realism to give it an international charm once again.