Although Italian by birth, Alberto Vianelli was to become a naturalized French citizen. He was born in the Italian town of Cavadei Tirreni, close to Naples in 1841. His father was the great Neapolitan landscape painter, Achille Vianelli (1803-1894) so perhaps it was only natural that Alberto would also pursue an artistic career. Whether purely as a result of genes or because of the dedicated instruction of his father, Alberto Vianelli was soon showing tremendous promise as an artist. Wanting his son to expand horizons he persuaded his friend the engraver and draftsman, Giacinto Gigante (1806-1876) to take on his son as a pupil. Tiring of the rigidity of Italian formal art training, Vianelli traveled to Paris in his mid-twenties. At first he tried to make a living as an artist but soon realized that in order to gain critical approval he would need to adopt a more romantic style. To facilitate this he attended the atelier of the great French genre painter Jules Lefebvre whose influence is evident in Vianelli’s subsequent work. Continuing his studies at the Ecole des Beaux Arts he was tutored by Gustave Boulanger whose orientaliste style paintings particularly inspired Vianelli. In 1875 he made the decision to settle permanently in France and within a year had become a citizen of that country, partly in order to participate in the exhibitions of the Paris Salon which were closed to all but French Nationals. His debut at the Salon came in 1877 and such was the critical and public acclaim that he would continue to show his work almost every year until 1911. During this time he also was invited to participate in major exhibitions in Venice, Brussels and London. In 1889 he was awarded a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle and in 1900 was honored with full membership to the Salon des Artistes Francais. Whilst Alberto Vianelli’s later work consisted primarily of sunlit landscapes, it is the genre paintings executed 1875-1900 that are considered his finest and are the most sought-after.
When he first arrived in Paris he had met and became close friends with the novelist Paul Bourget whose romantic stories of the bourgeoisie were immensely popular amongst the Parisian dilettante. Realizing that he could paint figure subjects reflecting this interest in the upper classes and their rather idle lives, he soon set about producing such works with titles such as ‘Une Folie’, ‘Dolce far Niente’ and ‘Triste Nouvelle’. This outstanding example of Vianelli’s work perfectly captures his ideals and would have appealed greatly to the readers of Bourget’s novels. It can be dated to around 1880 and depicts a young lady reclining on a divan having returned from an evening’s dancing and merry-making at a masked ball. Vianelli has painted the work with his usual attention to the minutest of detail and has imbued the whole with a warm light from a gas lamp. Of particular note is the extraordinary manner in which he has painted the divan’s coverlet and the mother of pearl inlayed side table in the damascene manner. It appears that this painting was exhibited publically on a number of occasions. The reverse bears an extraordinary number of labels pertaining to its transportation by at least two specialist art embailleurs. One label refers to its delivery to the seaside town of Boulogne-sur-Mer presumably for exhibition although a date and precise location is unknown. The other labels are mostly numerals relating to either its exhibition or its transportation but there is the frame-maker’s paper label from the prestigious gilders and carvers P. Hombert Fils located on the Place Breda in Paris. Alberto Vianelli was to enjoy a highly successful career right up to his death in the small town of Benevent l’Abbaye in 1927.