Our recent trip to Washington D.C was packed with special moments. In my last post I wrote about seeing my father’s World War Two art at the Army Art Archives. We were also able to see some of his art at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.
My father’s (Edward Reep’s) painting The Shrine is a significant work of art historically, artistically, and emotionally. It’s painted brilliantly and my father considers it one of the two best works of art he’s ever done. He painted it on his Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946 based on photos he took during World War II in Bologna, Italy.
About the situation, my dad has this to say in his book A Combat Artist in World War II:
In the town square of Bologna, where the city jail is located, a collaborator had just been slain beneath the iron-barred windows of the jail, his fresh blood still visible on the brick wall below. Within minutes an Italian flag was hung on the wall, above and to the left of the blood-stain, the tricolored red, white and green presenting a startling panache of color against the ancient, dull brown bricks. The House of Savoy emblem had been ripped away from the white central panel of the flag; pinned in its place was a stiff black ribbon of mourning. This became a dual gesture: it signified the end of the monarchy and Fascism, and it became a memorial to those who had given their lives in the long struggle for liberation. A derelict green table was then thrust against the bedecked wall, and placed upon it were little mementos, mostly photographs and flowers commemorating the loved ones who had perished; more photos were pinned to the flag. The images of those who had seen service in the Italian army were adorned with delicate multicolored ribbons of red, green and white. Lastly, an ornate filigree cross of black wrought metal was placed toward the front of the table to become the crowning touch in completing the impromptu shrine. Today, in Bologna, a permanent shrine stands on that sacred ground.
My dad’s notes on the execution of the painting from his book are as follows:
The Shrine was executed after the war from notes and sketches during the hectic moments when we captured Bologna. The hastily erected shrine depicted is now a permanent and more elaborate national monument in that city. The painting relies heavily upon the contrast of transparent color glazes against impasto (thick) paint. After initially priming the canvas, I covered it with a green ground that would peer through the multitude of brownish-red bricks. Painting on the field of battle had to be quick and spontaneous; it was rarely studied. Equipment was always portable and never comfortably complete. In my postwar studio I was able to exercise care and patience, select the appropriate medium, and – of greater importance – reflect deeply upon significant issues.
This historical explanation and photo of the shrine today comes, with permission, from Scott D. Haddow 0n flickr,
Il Sacrario dei partigiani in Piazza Nettuno, Bologna
Memorial to the partisans of WWII (1943-1945).
Bologna was one of the Italian cities most affected by the war, both for its importance in the communication/transportation system, and for its location in the rear of the Gothic Line. Between September 1943 and April 1945 the city was occupied by the Nazis. The people suffered from cold and hunger, Allied bombings and Nazi reprisals such as that of Monte Sole. Throughout this period, the courageous action of groups of anti-fascist partisans kept the people’s hopes alive.
A high toll was paid by the Bolognese: the number of civilian deaths under the bombing was 2481, while 2064 partisans were killed. On the morning of April 21 1945 Bologna was free.
Women’s groups began to lay flowers and put up pictures of their loved ones in Piazza Nettuno, on the wall where many partisans had been shot .
Thus was born the shrine of the partisans.
(translated from Italian: www.certosadibologna.it/museo_virtuale/sacrario_nettuno.html)
From another source, here is another image of the shrine today.
I am currently speaking with the head curator of the Smithsonian because I feel my father’s painting should be on permanent display somewhere in the museum system. My father has a couple of other works at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art that were donated by the Ford Motor Company and while they are excellent watercolors, I don’t believe they have either the artistic or historical significance to merit permanent display. The Shrine, however, does, and I hope something can be worked out.
If anyone wishes to lend their voice to this endeavor, I contacted the director Elizabeth Broun at BrounE@si.edu and she was very interested in hearing more about the history of the painting and the historical significance of the shrine. I don’t believe she needs “cheerleading” kinds of contact, but more of historically directed opinions or artistic statements if anyone has information I don’t. For example, what Scott D. Haddow had to say is very interesting because this was difficult to google.
Above, my husband and I look at my father’s watercolors in the Smithsonian archives.
All in all, it was rather amazing to have been one day at the Army Art Archives examining my father’s art and the next doing the same at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. This trip was beginning to feel a little bit surreal, but no one was complaining!
To come: more amazing connections and coincidences with the Berlin Wall.