Milan, Galleria Grubicy, Mostre collettive Segantini e Previati, 1906
Paris, Société Dante Alighieri, Salon des peintres Divisionnistes Italiens, 1907
Dresden, Kunstsalon Emil Richter, no. 2299
Berlin, Jüdisches Museum, Max Steinthal: Ein Bankier und seine Bilder, 2004 (illustrated in the catalogue)
Domenico Tumiati, 'Arte contemporanea: Giovanni Segantini', L'Arte, Milan, 29 May 1898
F. Servaes, Giovanno Segantini: sein Leben und sein Werk, Vienna, 1902, no. 50, catalogued
Teresa Fiori, Archivi del Divisionismo, Rome, 1969, vol. II, p. 207, no. 68
Maria Cristina Gozzoli, L'opera completa di Segantini, Milan, 1973, p. 102, no. 193, catalogued and discussed; p. 103, illustrated
Annie-Paule Quinsac, Segantini, Milan, 1982, vol. II, p. 321, no. 395, catalogued & discussed; incorrectly illustrated as no. 396
Painted circa 1884-85, La raccolta delle zucche is a seminal early work by the artist, a powerful evocation of the dawn of the modern industrial age. Under heavy skies, four women harvesting ripe pumpkins are passed by a steam train belching thick smoke over the fields. An age-old rural way of life is overtaken by technological progress, spelling the end of an era. The confrontation takes on the proportions of a battlefield, the pumpkins lying strewn like the casualties of war, the smoke like that of cannon just fired.
Of course the theme of the impact of the steam age on the rural order was not an uncommon one in art in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth. As early as 1869, the Italian Giuseppe de Nittis had painted a strikingly similar composition, showing a train steaming through open countryside, in which telegraph poles vye with trees as the main features of the landscape. In the 1870s, Monet, Sisley and other French Impressionists had explored the theme of suburbanisation through the railways.
What makes Segantini's painting so remarkable, though, is the raw and almost palpable tension between man and machine. Wheareas the Impressionists chose to see the railway as an essentially benevolent extension of the landscape, and one with which the rural population could live in peaceful co-habitation, Segantini uses it to symbolize the clash of two orders. The uncompromising angular silhouette of the train contrasts with the soft curving lines of the central figure, her face turned to avoid the smoke. Like a dragon breathing fire, the engine pushes into the picture plane from the left, intruding on the pumpkin harvesters' territory.
In 1882, on the advice of his friend, the art dealer Vittore Grubicy de Dragon, Segantini moved from Milan to the Brianza region of northern Italy to paint en plein air. Segantini, self-taught with the exception of a brief spell at the Accademia di Belle Arte de Brera, was largely ignorant of the Old Masters and of modern painting, and would remain a solitary figure throughout his career. Nevertheless, in their unsentimental portrayal of peasant life, his Brianza paintings can be compared to those of the French Barbizon painters, notably Jean-François Millet, whose paintings Segantini knew of through a collection of engravings sent to him by Grubicy.
Like in Millet's paintings, there is no suggestion of revolt or anger, and his peasants are resigned to their fate. But while Millet saw his workers as being forever locked in an unchanging agrarian world, Segantini was only too aware of the effects that the industrial revolution was having on the countryside, and believed that it was the responsibility of the artist to evolve his art accordingly. Thus, while adopting certain principles of the Barbizon school, Segantini took them much further. Whereas in Millet's L'Angelus, the potato diggers' work is interrupted by the church bells calling to prayer, in the present work it is the puffing, venting iron horse that causes the central figure to pause and wait as it passes. Similarly, the church steeple punctuating the horizon in Millet's painting is replaced in the present work by the black, smoke-spewing funnel of the locomotive.
Segantini expressed his views on the artist's imperative to give expression to modernity, in an article for the Cronaca d'Arte, a Milanese weekly review: 'Of the old ideals some are fallen and some are falling; other ideas have arisen or are about to rise; hence that retrospective glance, that contemplation of a past idealism, which was to be the substratum of the new, has no longer any reason to exist. The thoughts of the artist should turn to the future and extol it. Art should occupy the vacuum left in us by the decline of religious feeling; the art of the future must appear like the science of the soul, for a work of art is its revelation' (quoted in L. Villari, Giovanni Segantini, London 1901, p. 115-6).
La raccolta is not only an expression of Segantini's views on what painting should be. It is also a self-referential work, touching on the themes sacred to him, as well as symbolising the changes sweeping through his own art at the time. Although not immediately obvious, key to the painting is the theme of motherhood. The central figure is not in fact one figure but two. Clinging to its mother in pictorial symbiosis is a young child, seeking protection from the din and smoke of the passing train. Segantini lost his mother at the young age of seven, and in one sense his art can be seen as a coming to terms with that loss. He returned to the theme time and again in his work, including in one of the drawings from the Steinthal collection (see lot 242).
In 1883 Segantini had formalised his relationship with Grubicy by means of a contract under which, in return for an annuity, the artist granted the dealer exclusive rights to his paintings. Alberto Grubicy, Vittore's brother, assumed responsibility for the financial side of Segantini's arrangements. Vittorio Grubicy sponsored Segantini's participation in both local and foreign exhibitions and, most importantly, encouraged him to study the divisionist technique, for which he would become most famous. La raccolta, along with a smaller version (Quinsac no. 396), was among the last of his non-divisionist works, and its subject, the old being eclipsed by the new, could be understood as an expression of this new departure in his career.
Segantini's art and ideas certainly influenced a whole generation of Italian artists after him, notably the Divisionists, among them Umberto Boccioni. As late as 1904, the Spaniard Darío de Regoyos Valdés, who would have been familar with Segantini's work, conveyed a similar message as La raccolta in Good Friday in Castille, in which a procession of monks, observing the custom of centuries, follows an image of the Virgin under a bridge as a modern passenger train goes across it.
Max Steinthal acquired La Raccolta in or shortly after 1910, no doubt on the advice of his friend Wilhelm von Bode, the director of Berlin's National Gallery, to which Segantini's 1895 painting Ritorno al paese natio had been bequeathed in 1901. It also seems appropriate that La raccolta should have found its way into the collection of one of Germany's greatest pioneers of rail transport, who is best remembered for putting in place the financing of Berlin's underground and elevated railway system.