As happens periodically, I recently received an email from the owner of this wonderful Buongiorno painting.
He said: Years ago I bought a painting by Donatus Buongiorno at an auction. I bought it because it was a depiction of an old Garibaldi soldier. I read your article about him and your family connection and thought I would write to you. We love the painting and it hangs on a wall in our home.
Garibaldi soldier? I remembered they wore red and green, but thought it was usually the shirt that was red, and I wasn’t sure this guy’s hat was correct. Plus, this man looked quite like many images of “Neapolitan fishermen” I have seen over the years. So I started Googling.
I quickly discovered that, indeed, he was a Neapolitan fisherman—a famous one!
From the island of Capri, which is just across the bay from the city of Naples, Francesco Spadari (1858-1937) made himself into a media personality who entertained tourists on Capri. Using the one-name fame system, he called himself “Spadaro.”
He hung out in the main piazza of the island’s dock area, posing for photos and cleverly creating a public persona of the rustic Italian rube. Images of him posing with pipes, boats, beaches, etc., adorn tourist postcards from the late 1800s through the 1930s. He was photographed with famous visitors to Capri and even, in a widely publicized stunt, coached Russians Maxim Gorky and Vladimir Lenin on how to fish!
He was so famous, that 100 years later, in 2018, Neapolitans hosted a conference about him to commemorate his “achievements”—as an illiterate fisherman entrepreneur who invented a job for himself in the then-new, 20th-century tourism economy of the city.
See information and more photographs here, in English and Italian:
There are paintings of Spadaro by other Italian artists of the period, such as these two by Raffaele Frigerio, a contemporary of Donatus Buongiorno who was also a graduate of the art academy in Naples, and a known painter in Naples during Buongiorno’s lifetime.
This is the first time I’ve found a painting of Spadaro by Buongiorno, and I couldn’t be more delighted!
Buongiorno probably worked from a readily available postcard or newspaper photo, but I haven’t yet found the source image.
Or…is it possible Buongiorno painted Spadaro from life, during a paid, commissioned sitting?
Years ago, I got over my initial horror that Buongiorno copied postcards, by the way. I have found a number of examples (see here), and I have convinced myself that it was okay to do before inexpensive photography and mass printing made owning images accessible to average people. I came around to accepting that Buongiorno wasn’t cheating or being lazy; it was merely another way for him to make commercially saleable images.
In fact, I can gladly report that his copies always have a little something added to them beyond the originals—to make the subjects more human, more specific, more special in some way, so they are not tropes.
Buongiorno’s portraits are of real people whom you feel you could know, like this portrait of Spadaro.