20 Sep 2010

A visit to John Bellany in Tuscany by Sandy Moffat

A visit to John Bellany in Tuscany

I spent a week at the beginning of September with John Bellany at his
home in Tuscany...in the mountainous Garfagnana area of the Serchio valley, a few miles to the north of Barga which claims the title of “the most Scottish town in Italy”. Although dogged by ill-health in recent years, Bellany has spent the summer producing hundreds of new paintings, returning again to his life-long preoccupation with the fishing communities on the East coast of Scotland ... but with an added Italian dimension ...a new group of works based on the ports of Viareggio and Livorno. These latest paintings have all the usual Bellany trade marks ...blazing colour allied to a completely spontaneous kind
of execution...and are a testament to his unquenchable creative spirit.

The Serchio valley was where Puccini’s family originated from, although
the great man himself was born in Lucca in 1858. That house is now a
museum and the headquarters of the Puccini Foundation...Puccini went on
to live nearbye at Torre del Lago where he composed most of his operas..
..”harlot’s music” according to many of the locals at the time... and where he spent a lot of time hunting and shooting on Lake Massaciuccoli, as does Bellany’s doctor, Rino Settemini today. As well as ducks, it seems that deer and wild boar are the hunter’s main targets. The new buildings of the Festival Pucciniano hug the lakeside while Puccini’s house remains just as it was when he died in 1924...with an added chapel where Puccini, his wife and son are buried.

The other great artistic figure of the Serchio valley is the poet Giovanni
Pascoli who lived on the outskirts of Barga from 1895 until his death in 1912.
His house too, has been turned into a most beautiful museum with the attic
floor now functioning as a research centre in conjunction with the University
of Lucca. The recently retired mayor of Barga, Umberto Serini, has done
much to promote the cultural history of the region, linking figures like Pascoli,
Puccini, and now Bellany, and others such as Shelley, with the special colours and lights of this magical landscape.

Sandy Moffat

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