For nearly a decade the painter Jim Hennessey was the director of a summer painting program in Southern Italy. He and his wife, Dr. Pamela Potter-Hennessey, were the artist and the art historian in residence. Together they brought more then 75 painting students to the region where they experienced the landscape and light of this amazing region.
Each fall Hennessey returned to his Baltimore studio with numerous Italian references– recorded on paper and canvas, or stockpiled as memories and ideas in his head. This raft of material was the fodder for winter production, and out of his summer experiences the artist created many paintings and drawings that are either directly referential, or inspired by the area. His tendency was to make watercolors, or drawings while in residence in Italy, and then on his return to Maryland the studio production became oil paintings– some large and some small, like the painting above. The subjects range from expansive views out of the hotel window or from perches on the regional hill tops, to more intimate views of familiar locales. This particular painting is from 1995, and is titled S. Agnello, 24.5″ x 18.5″ the name of the tiny Italian town where Hennessey stayed with his students.
The group was always in residence at the Grand Hotel Cocumella, a wonderful, historic hotel that has a long history (since 1777) of hosting artists, writers and other creative people like Goethe, Freud and the Duke of Wellington!
The opportunity to spend time in Italy at this amazing locale was the gift of Nino del Papa, a well-known Neapolitan architect who was the proprietor at the time. His interest in supporting artists extended to young American students from the Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore. The Cocumella staff helped create an atmosphere that was supportive of creativity and was welcoming, warm and intimate.
Each year, at the close of the painting program, the City of Sorrento would host an exhibition of the young artists’ work in the City Hall courtyard, or at the nearby Cloisters of S. Francesco. The facilitator of these exhibitions and the person who forged a link between Hennessey’s student groups and the town of Sorrento, was Antonino Fiorentino, a member of the Sorrento City government. Fiorentino’s father, Domenico Fiorentino, was one of the local artists the students met and were fortunate enough to interact with (see past post: Domenico Fiorentino: Influence Reassessed).
Hennessey’s paintings that were inspired by his time in Southern Italy always seem to take into account the amazing light of the area. Because the towns of Sorrento and S. Agnello sit on the cliffs above the Bay of Naples, there is often a misty quality to the air, even if the sun is shining. The detail above illustrates how Hennessey took into account this hazy, mysterious light.
If you are interested in purchasing this painting, the link is:http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=221179061531&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT#ht_1497wt_1163