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FORTUNINO MATANIA, MASSIMO ILLUSTRATORE ITALIANO ALL’ESTERO

Saint George and the Dragon. Original cover artwork from Look and Learn no. 15 (28 April 1962).
Saint George and the Dragon. Original cover artwork from Look and Learn no. 15 (28 April 1962).
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Se fossi il parroco della chiesa di San Giorgio, o abitassi nel paesino di San Giorgio (dopo Ponte alle tavole si gira a destra, venendo dal centro), se pure mi chiamassi “Giorgio Giorgio detto Giorgio“, investirei meno di cinquemila euretti per acquistare questo capolavoro barocco.

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Uno dei più grandi illustratori italiani del Novecento, il napoletano emigrato Fortunino Matania, è praticamente ignorato nella sua patria (che è anche la nostra), avvezza a sopravvalutare figurinai immeritevoli di attenzione e a dare spago a chi sgomita imbastendo campagne pubblicitarie personali (di chi fa il furbastro, in sostanza).
Servono gli studiosi, i critici, gli analisti a tentare (spesso invano, scontrandosi contro i tifoni roteanti del conformismo) a ristabilire qualche equilibrio, a spargere qualche briciola di verità.

Cover of The Sphere, 13 January 1917, New Year's Day with a Scottish regiment at the front. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.
Cover of The Sphere, 13 January 1917, New Year’s Day with a Scottish regiment at the front. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.
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A Matania, fortunatamente, si sta interessando il “padre spirituale” di Fumo di China, Franco Spiritelli, che insieme ad altri benemeriti studiosi e compilatori della Fondazione Rosellini ha già pubblicato impagabili opere sull’illustrazione e la narrativa pop (di genere) italiana.

Un aiuto viene dalla non lontana Inghilterra, dove qualcuno sta facendo bene il suo lavoro espandendo il suo spettro di indagine non solo agli artisti della sua terra,
Sempre sia lodato il Book Palace, che oggi, inizio di ottobre 2016, propone nel suo catalogo online varie stampe di Matania, fra cui quelle che riproduco in questo primo post sul tema.

Cover of The Sphere, 27 January 1917, following the troops over the edge - plucky work of the ammunition carriers. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.
Cover of The Sphere, 27 January 1917, following the troops over the edge – plucky work of the ammunition carriers. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.

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Le pagine di questo post sono riprodotte da riviste degli anni Dieci del secolo scorso (cento e rotti anni fa!) che per tutto questo tempo sono state conservate nell’archivio personale di Matania.
Prendiamo l’illustrazione, eccezionale, qua sopra.
Con Pancho Villa.

La didascalia ci spiega:

This is the printed cover page from The Sphere dated February 28th 1914.
The scene depicts General Villa the revolutionary who is reported to have ordered the execution of a British subject Mr Benton, a planter, who had suffered under the Mexican regime.

This image is featured in the book The Art of Fortunino Matania: catalogue of original art & prints e in un numero della bellissima rivista Illustrator. Il tutto è acquistabile online, per chi volesse farlo.

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Le note biografiche (in Inglese) sull’impagabile artista.

Fortunato Fortunino Matania (16 April 1881 – 8 February 1963; Italy and UK)
Born in Naples in 1881, Fortunino Matania trained at his father’s studio and illustrated his first book at the age of 14. He studied in Paris, Milan and London, where he worked on The Graphic. He returned to Italy at the age of 22 for military service in the Bersaglieri. He then returned to London where he joined the staff of The Sphere.

With the outbreak of World War I he became a war artist and spent nearly five years at the front drawing hundreds of sketches. His work was admired by military experts and critics alike for his technical accomplishment and scrupulous accuracy. His war art features in virtually every history or encyclopaedia of WW1 ever produced.

At the end of World War I Matania illustrated numerous ceremonies in London, including the coronation of Edward VII. During the first half of the 20th century he literally illustrated history as it happened. He was made a Chevalier of the Crown of Italy, and exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and The Royal Institute of Art.

In his studio he maintained an enormous collection of artefacts to aid him in his work. He rarely made preliminary sketches, preferring to begin an elaborate illustration without previous preparation. It was as if he had a exact mental photograph of the art before he began to paint or draw. His reputation was such that he was visited in his studio in London by Annigoni, Russell Flint, and John Singer Sargent, and his work is collected and admired by many of today’s greatest artists and illustrators.

He was an expert at historical scenes from all periods of history and his Ancient Roman and classical illustrations are particularly admired and collected. During WW2, many of his paintings and drawings were destroyed when his studio was bombed in the Blitz. He was so prolific, however, that many examples of his art still survive.

The meeting of the lovers in the third act of La Boheme at the Aldwych Theatre, London, with Maurice d'Oisly as Rudolph, Bessie Tyas as Mimi, Frederick Austin as Marcel, and Olive Townsend as Musetta. Published in The Sphere, 20 January 1917. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.
The meeting of the lovers in the third act of La Boheme at the Aldwych Theatre, London, with Maurice d’Oisly as Rudolph, Bessie Tyas as Mimi, Frederick Austin as Marcel, and Olive Townsend as Musetta. Published in The Sphere, 20 January 1917. Drawn by Fortunino Matania.