6 Sep 2017

Portraits of Bastia, Corsica

Landscape painting - including that of cityscapes and seascapes - contributes a valuable testimony to the history and geography of a place. If carried out meticulously and faithfully in relation to the original viewing, a painting captures and immortalises a scene as photographical evidence - without a camera in sight. This is when a painting becomes an intimate affair and its landscape a portrait. Those paintings relay valuable information to historians, ethnologists, city planners and to anyone interested in their locale.

'Vue du Port de Bastia en 1928', oil on canvas by Marc Bardon (1928)

My quest for period paintings depicting the Corsican seaside city of Bastia has taken me on a delightful journey! You could rightfully describe it as a labour of love. Unsurprisingly, the sea is captured by every artist whose oeuvre I am curating hereby. The sea is at the epicentre of the island city's historical, political and socio-economical structure. The maritime theme is strong and hardy and brings to each painting a unique colour representation!

*Put into context of the time period* Fish abounds and the sea feeds and builds the coastal communities. Voyage out of and to the island involves the vast expanse of water that surrounds it. Trade sails into and out of the island too. Let us not forget that danger lurks out from the sea (storms, epidemics, wars, invasions). The sea is a messenger, bearer of glad tidings and toller of bad news. The sea transports us.

'Corse, Bastia, le Vieux Port', oil on canvas by Marc Bardon (1939)

It brings a spectrum of mental states and emotions in tune with the aches and pains of our soul: solace, providence, daydream, hope, wish, desire, escapism, synchronicity, loneliness and desperation. It gets us to intensely scrutinise the horizon, seeking to pierce the secret of what lies beyond in order to satisfy the eternal life quest of curiosity. Ultimately the sea washes our bodies and absolves us of our sins. Ultimately the sea wreaks havoc and swallows into its watery grave lives, ship wreckages, antique towns and secrets aplenty. And when the calm finally settles over the climatic vicissitudes, the sea takes on a hue of contentment; it glitters in the golden sun, twinkles, bedazzles, spellbounds and bewitches us all over again.

I like to see the sea as a character all to itself: a whimsical, misunderstood friend or foe, according to its moods. It is ever-changing: undulates and scintillates, ebbs and flows, gently sways and then build up a crescendo, swelling up with the wind, then throwing itself at the shore in anger or desperation. It plays with the reflection of the sky always, composing as its mirror a captivating tableau that marries transience and a more permanent state of mind.

'Une Vue du Vieux Port de Bastia', oil on board by Hector Filippi
'Vieux Port de Bastia', oil on canvas by Léon-Charles Canniccioni (c.1927-30)
'Bastia, le Vieux Port et l'Eglise', oil on board by Rémy E. Landeau
'Vue du Vieux Port de Bastia', oil on canvas by Frédéric Bourgeois de Mercey (1839)
'Le Vieux Port de Bastia', oil on canvas by Léon-Charles Canniccioni
'Vue de Bastia, Côté Sud', watercolour by Jean-Jérôme Levie
'The Bombardment of Bastia, 6 November 1745', oil on canvas by Samuel Scott
'Vue de Bastia depuis Toga', oil on canvas by Louis-Auguste Lapito (1844), pict source
'Vue de Bastia depuis les Hauteurs du Cap Corse', oil on cardboard by Lucien Peri
'Bastia, Citadelle', acrylic and oil on canvas by François de Casabianca (2017)
Le Vieux Port de Bastia, as it stands today (c.2016), pictured from Hôtel des Gouverneurs

P.S: If you enjoyed the paintings of Bastia, you should view the postcards.

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