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The Ringling News

29 March 2023

Juana Romani’s Femme au fond rouge

by The Ringling

This summer, The Ringling made an important addition to its collection of 19th-century European art with the acquisition of a stunning work by the Italian-born painter Juana Romani (1867-1924). Romani’s Femme au fond rouge (Woman on a Red Background) will be presented at The Ringling for the first time as part of the exhibition A Decade of Collecting, on view in the galleries of the Arthur F. and Ulla R. Searing Wing from October 22, 2022 through January 22, 2023.

Romani was born in Velletri, Italy, but moved to Paris with her family when she was ten years old. In her teens she began working as a model for two established painters, Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) and Ferdinand Roybet (1840-1920), and soon took up painting herself, learning from both masters. Her talent was immediately recognized in her first public exhibitions in the late 1880s, and by the end of the following decade she had achieved a fully mature style that was all her own. Critics, who lavished her with praise, noted both the virtuosity of her technique and the natural quality of her depictions of women.

The Ringling’s new painting, Femme au fond rouge, is typical of Romani’s mature work: a vivid, sensual rendering of a woman, dressed in luxurious textiles, gazing directly out at the viewer, set against a richly-colored background. It is executed in her preferred medium of oil on panel, with characteristic passages of virtuosic brushwork and a bold signature at upper left. It seems likely that the lovely gilt frame is original to the painting.

Romani became extremely famous in France around the turn of the century. Her paintings were widely reproduced in magazines, and images of her appeared in advertisements for products she had endorsed. Unfortunately, by 1904, at the height of her fame, her mental health began to deteriorate, and she spent the last part of her life in and out of various asylums.

As was the case for many women artists of previous centuries, Romani was quickly forgotten after her departure from the art scene. It is only in recent years that she has been the subject of sustained scholarly interest, which has included two important exhibitions, one in 2017-2018 in her hometown of Velletri, Italy, and another in 2021 at the Musée Roybet Fould in Courbevoie, France. While several French and Italian museums possess examples of Romani’s work, we are aware of only one other museum in the United States which holds her work, Syracuse University Art Museum.

Juana Romani (Italian, active in France, 1867-1924), Femme au fond rouge, ca. 1900. Oil on panel. Museum purchase, 2022. 2022.19

The Ringling is therefore especially pleased to be able to share Romani’s work, and the extraordinary story of her life, with its audiences in Sarasota. Here, Romani’s Femme au fond rouge will join a strong collection of late 19th-century European art, nearly all of which was acquired by our founder, John Ringling (1866-1936). Gallery 21 of the Museum of Art, which features a number of works from this collection, was recently reinstalled to reflect Mr. Ringling’s taste for the art of his own time.

Mr. Ringling purchased two important works by Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899), another outstanding woman painter of the 19th century who was extremely famous during her lifetime and then mostly forgotten after her death (particularly in France). The two paintings, Plowing in the Nivernais (1850; a copy she made of the original in the Musée d’Orsay) and Family of Deer (1865) are featured works in Gallery 21, though the latter is currently on loan to the large exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay (runs through January 15, 2023), the first major Paris show devoted to Bonheur in over 100 years.

Though Mr. Ringling did not own a work by Juana Romani, he did purchase two by her teacher Roybet, one of which—the small Study in White—is in fact a portrait of Romani, information that had been lost since before John purchased it and was recognized by the organizers of the exhibition in Velletri. That painting, which was displayed in the Museum of Art during John’s lifetime and was most recently on view in his office in Ca’ d’Zan, will be part of a special installation in the Museum of Art in 2023 which will feature our new acquisition together with related works from The Ringling’s permanent collection.

Top image:
Juana Romani (Italian, active in France, 1867-1924), Femme au fond rouge, ca. 1900. Oil on panel. Museum purchase, 2022. 2022.19

Lower image:
Ferdinand Roybet (French, 1940-1920), Study in White (Portrait of Juana Romani), early 1890s. Oil on panel. Bequest of John Ringling, 1936. SN440