The Farewell (1955)

Umberto Mastroianni

The Artwork

Umberto Mastroianni’s sculpture The Farewell from 1955 initially appears to be nothing more than the fusion of various masses. But having read the title, we can make out two embracing figures. However, it is impossible to make out the exact anatomy of these people. We can recognise a head, an arm or a leg, but it is often unclear to which of the two figures they belong. Mastroianni did not so much wish to imitate the human figure, but rather to suggest the emotional tension of two people fused in an embrace. The sculpture has been sited on the sculpture terrace since 2000.

Mastroianni amplifies the tension in the sculpture by using contrasting forms. He alternates planes and angular volumes with rounded and curved masses. The repetition of these two kinds of forms gives the sculpture a rhythm and dynamism, emphasised by the strong diagonal orientation. The form of the plinth underlines this dynamism.

This tension and dynamism is reflected in the sculpture’s surface. The bronze has a refined finish with a rhythmic alternation between darker sections and lighter accents. During the casting process various holes were created in the surface. The rods used to lift the sculpture after its casting have resulted in small, regular holes. The larger, jagged holes are the result of the casting process itself. Usually such imperfections would be corrected after the casting, but Mastroianni wished to show the fabrication process and allowed these holes to remain.

Umberto Mastroianni

Umberto Mastroianni

Umberto Mastroianni is considered one of the most important Italian artists of the twentieth century. He was born into a family of artists in 1910 in Fontana Liri, and worked in the family’s workshop from a young age. He studied sculpture and went on to make sculptures in bronze and natural stone. Later in his career he also made prints. In 1926 he settled in Turin, where he lived and worked for most of his life.

Initially Mastroianni made busts and portraits in a classical style. At this time he remained immune to the new ideas about art that had been introduced around 1910 by the Italian Futurists. His first solo exhibition of classical works was held in Geneva in 1931.

Although Mastroianni almost always based his works on visible reality, from 1941 his work became more abstract both in style and subject matter, for example a cloud. In the human figures that won him international recognition in the 1950s he returned to the visual language of early Cubism and Futurism.

He used plastic forms, introduced tension through contrasting forms and created rhythm and dynamism through the repetition of forms. Nonetheless, the human aspect of the figures remains the principle element in his sculptures, which are therefore more than simply studies of form and movement. In the 1960s his sculptures became more jagged and the solid, plastic forms made way for more open structures.

Following a long career, during which international attention for his work gradually waned, Mastroianni died in 1998 at the age of 88 in Marino in Italy.

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The Farewell

In Umberto Mastroianni’s The Farewell two highly abstract figures are fused to form a compact mass. The couple consists of segment-like and angular planes, in which intermingled legs, torsos, arms and heads can only be identified at some distance. At the back of the sculpture it becomes obvious that Mastroianni based his composition on a cross with broad bars. At the front, an interplay of diagonal lines dominates, which is further reinforced by the slanting pedestal; consequently the work emanates great dynamism. One of the figures reaches far outside the plinth, as if he or she is being lifted off the ground by the other person during the ardent embrace. This ties in with the original title of Gli Amanti (the lovers), though this is not immediately obvious.
During his long career Umberto Mastroianni – he was the uncle of the actor, Marcello Mastroianni – always started from a natural motif, but with varying results. During the fascist regime in Italy, he produced portraits and busts in Classical style. After the war his work became more experimental and his compositions almost abstract, sometimes as a result of his subject choice. For instance, his sculptural representation of something as immaterial and tenuous as a cloud (made in 1949) still looks highly unusual.

For his human figures of the 1950s, Mastroianni referred back to Cubism and Italian Futurism dating from just before the First World War. That is very much in evidence in The Farewell of 1955. The dynamism of the diagonal lines and the distortions of the subject – as if the embrace is taking place in a protracted moment in which shapes intermingle – are derivatives of Futurism. The larger and smaller holes in the object resulting from untreated imperfections in the casting process, reinforce the idea of fusion, movement and disintegration; of a process in time.

The fact that The Farewell ended up in Rotterdam is primarily due to an omission by the Rotterdam Art Circle. In 1954 this society had organized the Mostra, an exhibition of contemporary Italian sculpture, in the gardens of Museum Boymans. The sculptures on display, including work by Marini and Manzù, had all come from Milan – in those days the centre of Italian sculpture. So Mastroianni, who had always worked in Turin, was not included. He was, however, fairly well known in the Netherlands, especially after he had received an award at the 1954 Venice Biennale and work of his had been exhibited at Sonsbeek 1955. As a result the Rotterdam Art Circle chose to highlight his work in a solo exhibition in March 1957, three years after the Mostra. Accordingly, ten large bronzes by Mastroianni were on show in Rotterdam, including The Lovers. Museum Boymans acquired a small stylized sculpted portrait from the exhibition. Moreover, in consultation with the ‘Stichting Herrijzend Nederland’ (Netherlands Regeneration Foundation) the City Council purchased a second, bigger work: The Lovers. Sybold van Ravesteijn, the architect of Rotterdam’s Central Station, had chosen it. After all, the sculpture was to be a visual accent for the hall of that new building. For that reason it was purchased by the City Council and offered to the Netherlands Railways. When the work was unveiled on 21 May 1957, it had acquired a new title – The Farewell, which was felt to be more fitting for the venue.

In fact, van Ravesteijn had contacted Henry Moore at an earlier stage, for two facade sculptures on either side of the station. For reasons that are not clear, that assignment did not materialize; the relevant sculptures were designed by J.H. Baas, a member of van Ravesteijn’s staff. The choice of Mastroianni’s sculpture in the concourse was more fortunate. The subject of the embracing couple and the dynamic formal syntax are well suited to the bustle of a station concourse. The diagonal lines of the plinth on which the vigorous couple stand further emphasize that dynamism.
Sadly, the interaction between the sculpture and the hurried travellers diminished with the arrival of large yellow ticket-vending machines in the immediate vicinity of The Farewell. They completely overshadowed the bronze. When it became clear that the Central Station was due for a thorough extension and reconstruction, the International Sculpture Collection Committee asked the Dutch Railways if the sculpture might be made available on long-term loan to enhance the sculpture terrace along Westersingel. And, indeed, it can now be seen there, on a slate replica of the original plinth, between the works by Auguste Rodin and Fritz Wotruba.

Jelle Bouwhuis

Oosthoek, J., Italiaanse beelden in Rotterdam, Rotterdam 1996. / Ponente, N., Mastroianni, Rome 1963.