Mini Exhibit: Ralph Della-Volpe’s Brooding, Enigmatic Figures

Three Guests (50x48) 1956 by Ralph Della-Volpe

Three Guests (50×48) 1956

Gregory James Gallery is presenting a mini exhibit of mid-20th-century paintings by the late Ralph Della-Volpe, including masterful works that focus on the figure as presented through the post-war lens of Abstract Expressionism.

“Artists had to move ahead and progress to express the energy of the times, to keep pace with the expression of the times. It’s not the thing that you’re painting anymore, it’s the quality of it you’re abstracting. Paintings were executed with less emphasis on the object. I was looking for a psychological feeling in my paintings compared to a literal one,” the artist has said of his midcentury works.

Della-Volpe’s first-hand experience of war informs his midcentury work. He landed on Utah Beach as part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Wounded there for a second time during his wartime Army service, he earned a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster.

Born in New York in 1923, Della-Volpe had studied at the National Academy Design before the war, and he picked up his studies upon returning home at the Arts Students League.

It was an era of gestural brushstrokes, spontaneity, and non-representational subject matter, as giants likeWillem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky applied the lexicon of post-war Modernism to the figure – with different results that emerged in both cases from lived experiences; in Gorky’s case, he was propelled by the constant weight that came from surviving the Armenian genocide.

The shadow of war likewise informed Della-Volpe’s figural paintings. Not deconstructed or dismembered like de Kooning’s women, these characters are survivors whose personal traumas are reflected in every brushstroke.

Cadet by Ralph Della-Volpe

Cadet (12×8)

One of Della-Volpe’s figures threatens to blur into the background, and where there should be eyes are absences that feel like portals into the darkness of the void. Another figure. standing or perhaps swaying in a washed-out landscape that might be a beach, barely has a hint of a face and gesturally seems poised to blow away at any moment.

More fully realized are Della-Volpe’s post-war figures that command viewers’ attention with exaggerated features provocatively twisted by the discontents and tragedies of their histories, pain etched into their visages with cutting lines, and the atmosphere around them poisoned with garish colors.

Til-Death-Do-Us-Part-40x52 1956 by Ralph Della-Volpe

Til Death Do Us Part (40×52) 1956

These figurative paintings are among Della Volpe’s most valued and sought after works and Gregory James Gallery recently acquired a group of them from the artist’s daughter, Tisa, which are available to collectors.

Della-Volpe, who lived in Millbrook, N.Y., moved through a series of styles over his many decades of painting, embracing Abstract Expressionism in the 1950s, paying homage to Fauvist influences in the 60s, and turning to highly stylized beach scenes and landscapes in the 70s and 80s.

Throughout his career, the artist adhered to the philosophy that painting was an emotional response to the observed world.

“I have always had a strong urge to express that emotional response on canvas,” Della-Volpe said of his process.

His works championed color, pattern, form, and light and shadows, and he used color in an arbitrary manner, rather than trying to present the hues of representation, to achieve more creative freedom.

“[It is] his work that is his legacy,” Della-Volpe’s obituary said. “It is in the subtle shift of color, the arbitrary use of color, the gradual darkening of a shadow, and the patterns surrounding his mostly serene subjects where one can gain a glimpse inside the head of this most accomplished painter.”

BoyontheBeach48x40-c.-1968 by Ralph Della-Volpe

Boy on the Beach (48×40)

In addition to the figurative paintings, Gregory James Gallery also acquired a series of abstract beach scenes, some with enigmatic, even menacing, birds, adding to gallery’s roster of available works that includes lighter and brighter landscapes and forest scenes.

These later works place a priority on composition. “In painting, expression doesn’t come through the subject matter, it comes through the composition and structure of color,” Della-Volpe is quoted as saying in a story about a 2005 retrospective of his work.

Contact gallery owner Gregory James Mullen at 860-354-3436 or by email at GregoryJamesG@aol.comfor details about the Della-Volpe paintings and pricing.

Della-Volpe’s work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and is in collections such as that of Chase Manhattan Bank, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts , and the Library of Congress, the artist’s 2017 obituary said. In addition to painting, he was the longtime chairman of the Art Department at the former Bennett College in Millbrook, N.Y.

To learn more, see his artist’s page and call the gallery at 860-354-3436.

Gregory James Gallery is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a .m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you haven’t visited in a while, please note that the gallery has moved to a larger new location at 149 Park Lane Road (Route 202) in New Milford.

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