Beauty Holding Back Time by Donato Barcaglia

Donato Barcaglia (Italian, 1849-1930) La Giovanezza che Tenta di Arrestare il Tempo, or Beauty Holding Back Time. White marble. 89 BY 59IN.

Yesterday, I visited Sotheby’s in London to preview its nineteenth-century painting auction. Before I could get to the paintings, I was stopped and dumbstruck by La Giovanezza che Tenta di Arrestare il Tempo, or Beauty Holding Back Time, by Donato Barcaglia (Italian 1849-1930).

Barcaglia created the work when he was only 27. It was his “coming out” or graduate work, made at the end of his studies and, therefore, meant to showcase the accumulated skills of his years in the Roman Academy. An instant popular and critical success, Beauty Holding Back Time travelled to Florence, Philadelphia, and Milan before being collected by Michael Alexander Wilsone Swinfen Broun (1858-1948), a Colonel in the British Army, and taken to England.

The breadth and depth of Barcaglia’s artistic arsenal, especially at such a young age, is impressive. He exhibits command the material by conveying a large variety of textures (e.g. young skin, old skin, clothing, feathers, hair, wood, metal) and making it appear to defy gravity. As was common for Academic painters and sculptors from the period, Barcaglia mixes his understanding of the ideal, or antique, human form in his depiction of Youth, with Naturalism, as seen in the wings of Father Time.

According to a sculpture dealer in London I know, Beauty Holding Back Time is the most important nineteenth-century statue to reach the market in nearly 25 years. It is estimated at only £150,000 to £200,000. I write “only” because, if it were a painting of similar importance by Gerome or Bouguereau from the same period, it would be estimated at well over £1 million.

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