10 June, 2012

Portrait of Bodoni?

Was the sitter for this portrait Giambattista Bodoni, whose name was written on the back? And can we believe the claim that the artist was Andrea Appiani (1754–1817)? Appiani’s well known painting of Bodoni, which is in the galleria nazionale at Parma, is familiar from the engraving of it by Francesco Rosaspina which is the frontispiece to the first volume of the 1818 edition of the Manuale tipografico, shown below.
Perhaps this text should have said more about the original when the image was first posted. The portrait, painted on a wooden board measuring 49 by 39 centimetres, does indeed bear the names of Giambattista Bodoni as sitter, and Andrea Appiani as the artist, written in ink on the reverse, apparently by more than one hand.
The painting had been acquired during a visit to Europe by Muir Dawson, of Los Angeles, California, a dealer in books on printing and examples of fine printing. A. L. Van Gendt, publisher of Amsterdam, had bought it from the book dealer Commin of Bournemouth. In 1965 Dawson was in correspondence about the portrait with Robert F. Lane, a resident of New York and an outstandingly well-informed specialist on the work of Bodoni. In 1964 Lane had already received enquiries by letter about the picture from its current owner, R. C. Hatchwell, a bookseller of Little Somerford, Chippenham, Wiltshire. As he told Dawson, Lane did not think it represented Bodoni. Others, noting the lack of resemblance to the figure with a well-nourished face in more familiar portraits, have had the same reaction.
Being puzzled to know what to do with the portrait, with its lack of a reliable attribution or provenance, in October 1968 Dawson and Van Gendt presented it jointly to the St Bride Printing Library, as it was then known, with an invitation to discover more about it, if that should be possible.
I am afraid that nothing more has come to light. The direct trail, if it ever existed, became a cold one. But since next year, 2013, is the 200th anniversary of Bodoni’s death, which will be marked with an event in Parma, it seems to me that if it can be done, it is about time to try to resolve the doubts relating to this ‘portrait’, or at least to discover its provenance. After all, it is now possible to publish the image and its associated story more widely than ever before. By indexing this post, Google has now placed it among the images produced by a search for ‘Bodoni portrait’. Information relating to this painting will be welcome.