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Guido Nincheri

by Rhona Goodspeed

Architectural Historian, Parks Canada

On June 18, visitors crowded into one of the rooms on the upper floor of the Chateau Dufresne Museum in Montreal to hear Director Paul Labonne introduce the museum's current exhibition, entitled "Guido Nincheri, A Florentine Artist in America."

In attendance were members of the Italian community and others who share an interest in this Italian artist and his extensive decorative work, which may be seen in churches across Canada. Among those present were the artist's son George Nincheri and, from Ottawa, Luciano Pradal and Italo Tiezzi, both of whom share an enthusiasm for the artist's work and have contributed to our knowledge about him.

The Chateau Dufresne, originally the lavish home of two Montreal businessmen, is a highly appropriate setting for the exhibit, as many of the interior wall and ceiling paintings are early works by Nincheri. Today these are rare examples of the artist's secular paintings.

The Montreal exhibition documents the key events in the artist's life, from his birth in 1885 in Prato, his arrival in Canada in 1915, and his move to the United States in the early 1940s. The exhibition is the first to show a number of sketches and preparatory designs for a range of projects from his former studio in Montreal, with which he was associated for over three decades and until a few years before his death in 1973.

Most striking among the works on display are the beautiful small-scale designs for stained glass windows, carefully painted in minute detail and depicting a range of Biblical and symbolic themes. Among the finest is a portrayal of St. Mary Magdalen praying in the desert, masterfully painted with jewel-like precision. Also on display are two self-portraits of the artist, one of which belongs to the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa. The exhibition continues until October 21.

Nincheri's contribution to church decoration in North America is extensive - his works appear in nine provinces, as well as in the United States. Nincheri executed numerous wall paintings and designs, not only for stained glass windows but also for architecture, sculpture and church furnishing s such as altars and pulpits. Among his contributions in Canada was the introduction on a large scale of the use of the Italian technique of fresco painting, the application of colours directly onto a damp plaster surface, which was first applied to the walls or ceilings. Fresco was widely used during the Italian Renaissance. Nincheri was also unusual in Canada for his palette of bright colours, many of which were similar to those used during the Italian Renaissance.

The interior of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount, a church in Montreal, was begun by the artist in 1928 and possibly completed as late as 1951. Among his most outstanding works, this is an ensemble of architecture, painting in fresco, stained glass windows and sculpture. Several years ago his interior was declared a national historic site by the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Among examples of works by Nincheri in Ottawa is the magnificent cycle of stained glass windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral on Sussex Drive, which show the artist's use of strong colours and bold designs, and the interior of St. Anthony's Church, a fine example of Nincheri's approach to the overall design of interiors and use of fresco painting.

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