On his first visit to Paris in 1875 Mancini signed a contract to supply pictures to a leading dealer, Goupil & Cie. On a second visit to the French capital in 1877, cut short by a mental breakdown – he never returned – Mancini delivered five paintings to Goupil, including this work. It shows an elegant if wistful young woman, surrounded by trunks and the paraphernalia of travel, who is preparing to leave Paris. Customs agents may soon arrive to inspect her belongings. It represented a change in direction for the artist, a richly detailed scene from contemporary Paris life popular with sophisticated French and foreign collectors, but unlike the more evocative depictions of Italian waifs and urchins on which Mancini was building his reputation. The Irish-born collector Hugh Lane, a Mancini enthusiast, acquired it for the Municipal Gallery of Modern Art he founded in Dublin early in the twentieth century
Mancini was not alone among Italian painters of his generation in imagining that the road to success lay through Paris. The city boasted a cosmopolitan art market, dealers with international connections, critics and collectors of contemporary art from around the world. As early as 1872 Mancini began to send paintings to the annual Paris Salon. Three years later, in 1875, he visited the city for the first time, where he signed a contract to supply paintings to Goupil & Cie, art dealers who specialised in contemporary Italian art and represented leading figures such as the Neapolitan Giuseppe De Nittis (1846–1884). At the age of 23, Mancini’s commercial success seemed assured.
Mancini returned to Paris in 1877 intending to stay indefinitely. There, he was taken up by De Nittis, who introduced him to the leading Impressionist artists of the day, including Manet and Sargent. ‘In Paris, I knew everyone’, Mancini recalled years later. He exhibited widely that year and the next, but mental crises – frequent in his troubled life – led to a breakdown and a sudden return to Naples in May 1878. He never visited Paris again. While there, however, he delivered five paintings to Goupil including this picture.
Mancini received 800 francs for it, less than Goupil gave him for other works at the time, perhaps because the painting represented an as-yet-untested change of direction for the artist. Mancini had established his early reputation with wistful depictions of young Italian urchins, circus performers and other marginal figures, executed with a delicate, quivering touch. But this was the kind of scene from modern Parisian life that contemporary critics were calling for.
An unidentified elegant young woman dressed for travel waits among her many trunks for the porters who will transport her to the train station. Customs agents may be about to inspect the luggage before she boards the train, which might be why the painting was once called The Customs. It is executed in a meticulous Realist manner with myriad precisely rendered details; we can even read headlines in the Paris newspapers used for packing, including an evocative fragment, ‘du Louvre’. The picture was meant to appeal to international clients – many would visit Paris for the Universal Exhibition in 1878 – attracted to the fashionable contemporary genre scenes of James Tissot and Alfred Stevens, popular in the French capital at the time. The very title, which addresses the city itself – ‘goodbye, Paris’ – plays on sadness at having to leave the City of Lights.
Adieu Paris is unique in Mancini’s work both in subject matter and style, and he was uncomfortable with it, complaining about having to cater to Parisian taste. At the same time, it is representative of works that countless foreign painters like De Nittis turned out in the 1870s and 1880s to meet the demands of the world’s most sophisticated contemporary art market. And a few years later it attracted an international buyer. Adieu Paris is one of many paintings by Mancini acquired by the Irish-born collector, dealer and curator Hugh Lane. He believed that Mancini was among the most important living painters and was determined that he should figure prominently at the Municipal Gallery he founded in Dublin. Four works by Mancini, of which this is the earliest, were bequeathed to the National Gallery in 1917. Today, display is shared between the National Gallery and the Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin.
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