Francesco Lojacono, born in Palermo in 1838, is one of the most important Sicilian landscape painters of the 19th century. He grew up in a family devoted to art, his father in fact a painter of battle scenes, and directed him from an early age to study painting. The artist initially trained with Salvatore Lo Forte, a Sicilian painter who was in turn a pupil of Vincenzo Camuccini. His first production is thus aimed at the historical genre, and paintings such as Giovanni dalle Bande Nere, Ferruccio a Gavignana, and Pia dei Tolomei bear witness to this artistic debut.
From history painting to verismo
In 1856 he moved to Naples where he entered the school of brothers Giuseppe and Filippo Palizzi and thus the break with history painting took place. Under the guidance of the two masters, the painter approached verismo and specialized in the landscape genre, finding a completely personal key.
From the Neapolitan city he moved often, even going to Florence, where he discovered the Macchiaioli painting that would influence his future works with particular suggestions.
In 1860, when he was only twenty-two years old, after the landing of the Thousand at Marsala, the painter accepted Garibaldi’s call and decided to participate, together with his father and brother, in the Expedition of the Thousand. On his way to Rome, he was wounded during the battle of Milazzo and then captured at Aspromonte together with Menotto Garibaldi.
A combination of verism and emotion
After this revolutionary and patriotic interval he took up his paintbrushes again, also deciding to explore his Sicily to tell its most characteristic places. The artist moves between Agrigento and Palermo and refines his veristic rendering of the landscape. The painter wishes to capture the nuances of the sky at dawn, the violent glare of torrid summer afternoons, or the held play of shadows during twilight. He devoted himself mainly to the depiction of seascapes or city settings, landscape paintings that tell a humble and simple everyday life of his land.
To these years date the first important exhibitions where he established his artistic research: in 1861 he participated in the Florence Exposition with three works Altro studio dal vero, Studio di Nelembium speciosum and Veduta di porto orientale presso Palermo. In 1863 he was present at the Turin Exposition with Casamenta in the vicinity of Monreale and Landscape of a gentle sea (historical point of the Vespers).
He also took part in foreign exhibitions: in Vienna in 1871 he exhibited La Valle d’Oreto; and in Paris in 1873 he made his mark with La quiete, a splendid sunset over the Sicilian sea. He is also present in Bordeaux, London and Berlin and participates in the 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris with Veduta di Palermo.
In 1877 he was invited to the Naples Exposition with Un Giorno di caldo in Sicilia!; and in 1880 he took part in the Turin Exposition with three works Dopo il tramonto, L’ottobre in Sicilia and Presso Posillipo.
The artist has the special ability to combine brilliant technical rendering with the emotional and intimist component of nature, identifying with it and thus perceiving its soul.
The painter experienced a period of great exhibition success: in 1881 in Genoa he presented four works The Temple of Castor and Pollux in Agrigento, From a Villa in Palermo, At the Baths near Pozzuoli, At Vesuvius-Naples; in 1883 in Turin he participated with Ecco il treno! (Peasants of Sicily); and the same year he also exhibited in Rome two works The Saracen Olives and The Unexpected Arrival (Sicilian countryside), a canvas that was purchased by Queen Margherita with the intention of exhibiting it in her residence at the Quirinal Palace.
The “painter of the sun”
In the 1980s and 1990s the artist developed a limpid, almost photographic Vedutism. The clear and terse light is the protagonist of his works, which manages to lap up all the subjects and elements of the landscape. For this mastery of luministic rendering he obtains the designation “Painter of the Sun.”
The sea appears quiet and the sky and earth are reflected in its serene waters. Everything is so real and at the same time surreal. Man and nature live in perfect balance.
In 1889 the painter presented two canvases at the Florence Exposition The little lake of the Villa Tasca near Palermo and The beach near Palermo called Acqua Santa; he took part instead in 1892 in the Exposition organized in Palermo with four works Three studies from life, Summer, From the Marine Hospice Palermo and Autumn.
He was also invited to several Venice Biennials: in 1895 he exhibited Surroundings of Palermo; in 1897 he was present with Saracen Olive Trees and Nelumbium, which depicts a beautiful aquatic flower that the ancient Egyptians had consecrated to Isis and Osiris; in 1901 he took part in the Biennial with A Summer Morning and Man at Arms. Nel bosco, Solitudine, Golfo di Palermo, Marina di Palermo and Studio appear instead at the edition in 1905. The 1909 Biennale is the last one in which he participated, where he exhibited Tramontana-Palermo and Crepuscolo-Palermo.
In the works of the last period, the artist turns to less sharp brushstrokes and darker tones.
Light and “the frightened, ascosa soul” of Sicily
In 1909 his fiftieth anniversary was also celebrated at the Circolo Artistico in Palermo with a speech given by architect Ernesto Basile. During his career he also obtained several academic appointments: in 1872 he was appointed honorary professor of landscape painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Naples; while in 1896 he became professor of landscape and marine painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Palermo, a position he held until 1914, a year before his death in Palermo.
“Never before had anyone turned with such enamored eyes to contemplate our boundless and blazing skies, flooded with a vivid and almost merciless light, if summer triumphs in all the splendor of its pomp; our somewhat pale skies, barely veiled by subtle mists and diaphanous vapors, if autumn divinely lingers on the hills and coats everything with its exquisite grace. Almost every hour of the day, almost every flowering bush, every patch of trees, every rock, every stream, every spring, every marsh found in Francesco Lojacono the painter who captured not only its outward appearance, but who revealed its bewildered, hidden soul.” These are the words of Sicilian journalist Francesco Colnago that emphasize the luministic abilities and the entirely personal and emotional modulation of the artist’s painting.
Emanuela Di Vivona