Monday, April 1, 2013
Workers and Capitalists Unite in The Fourth Estate
We first saw this painting, The Fourth Estate, by Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo, at an impressive 2008 exhibit - "The 1800s: From Canova to the Fourth Estate" at the Scuderie in Rome, site of many large and important painter shows on the Quirinale hill just opposite the President's Palazzo (in fact, the Scuderie was the stables for the palace, once the palace of the Popes).
It's hard to see in reproductions, and even high on the wall where it was prominently displayed in the exhibit, but the painting is early pointillism. It was first displayed in 1901, and is now (and usually) on display in Milan's "Museo del Novecento" (Museum of the 20th Century). The painting is enormous - about 10' x 17' (293 x 545 cm), and captured the imagination of revolutionaries and politicos. It depicts a strike, a familiar theme in the period, but in a way that shows the resolve of the workers, rather than violent protest, or the violent suppression of protest. The Communist Party adopted it, and it still appears on the Web site: http://www.comunistiuniti.it.
The Fourth Estate here refers not to the media but to the proletariat, the social grouping that joins the three traditional orders of the Old Regime (clergy, nobility, and the third formed by the bourgeoisie and peasants) in the social structure back to the French Revolution.
What fascinated us recently was seeing a take-off of the painting (now in the public domain, at least in the U.S., since it is over 100 years old) - see above - used for a business conference appeal at the Centro Congressi (e.g. Conference Center) in EUR. It's hard to think of Americans, who appropriate almost anything, appropriating a proletariat revolutionary symbol for corporate interests. That strikes us as a difference between Italy and the U.S. But we're open to other opinions.