16 April 2018

Fortunino Matania - artist and illustrator

War artist famous also for images of British history

Fortunino Matania was one of the leading 20th century magazine artists
Fortunino Matania was one of the leading
20th century magazine artists
Chevalier Fortunino Matania, a prodigiously talented artist who became known as one of the greatest magazine illustrators in publishing history, was born on this day in 1881 in Naples.

Matania made his name largely in England, where in 1904 he joined the staff of The Sphere, the illustrated news magazine that was founded in London in 1900 in competition with The Graphic and the Illustrated London News.

The use of photography on a commercial scale was in its infancy and artists who could work under deadline pressure to produce high-quality, realistic images to accompany news stories were in big demand.

Never short of work, he was commissioned by magazines across Europe, including many in his native Italy.

Matania’s best known work was from the battlegrounds of the First World War but he also covered every major event - marriages, christenings, funerals and state occasions - from the coronation of Edward VII in 1902 to that of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  He produced illustrations of the Sinking of the Titanic for The Sphere.

He was also in demand to design advertising posters, such as those inviting travellers on the LNER and other railways to visit Blackpool or Southport. He created posters, too, for Ovaltine and Burberry, the sports outfitter.

Matania was the war artist for the London magazine The Sphere
Matania was the war artist for the
London magazine The Sphere
Later in his career, he drew voluptuous women, often nude, for the women’s magazine Britannia and Eve, and was one of the first illustrators hired to work on the ground-breaking children’s magazine, Look and Learn.

Fascinated with British royalty and the Empire, Matania wrote as well as illustrated historical stories and in the years up to his death in 1963 produced a series of paintings for the Look and Learn publisher Leonard Matthews called a Pageant of Kings, which began with William the Conqueror and the Battle of Hastings.

He was working on a painting entitled Richard II and His Child Bride when he died in London at the age of 81.

Matania’s prolific output also included illustrations to be used in Hollywood movies.

His talent was plainly in his genes, to a certain extent. His father was Eduardo Matania, an artist who became an illustrator for magazines in Italy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

He studied at his father's studio, designing a soap advertisement at the age of nine and exhibiting his first work at Naples Academy by the times he was 11.

By the age of 14, he was good enough to take on some of his father’s workload for books and magazines and earned a commission in his own right to produce weekly illustrations for the periodical L'Illustrazione Italiania.

Matania was also in demand to create advertising posters, this one extolling the virtues of winter in Southport
Matania was also in demand to create advertising posters,
this one extolling the virtues of winter in Southport
He took the bold step to move to Paris in 1901 to work for Illustration Francaise. It was an invitation to cover the Coronation of Edward VII for The Graphic in 1902 that took him to London, where he quickly became in such demand that he stayed.

It was his coverage of the Great War that made it clear he was possessed of extraordinary talent. Not only was he able to work at great speed, he was able to recreate scenes as if he was using a camera, noting small details of the way people stood or moved and the expressions on their faces and bringing them together in vivid scenes so natural as if he had captured a moment in time exactly as it was when he saw it.

Although he spared readers the worst elements of what he had seen, his illustrations as much as anything in the news coverage of the conflict brought home to readers the full horrors of the conflict.

Naples, looking from Mergellina towards Santa Lucia
Naples, looking from Mergellina towards Santa Lucia
Travel tip:

Eduardo Matania produced many paintings depicting the life of fishermen and their families on the Bay of Naples, particularly in the Santa Lucia area, a neighbourhood clustered around the Castel dell’Ovo and only a short distance from the Royal Palace. Today, the area is a good place to eat, with many restaurants setting up around the harbour.

The Brera district has many restaurants
The Brera district has many restaurants
Travel tip:

The publishing centre of Milan was traditionally in the Brera district, an area just to the north of the city centre which once had the Bohemian atmosphere of a kind of Italian Montmartre.  Nowadays, it is the home of the Pinacoteca di Brera, one of the city’s major art galleries, and also of many fine restaurants, and retains its chic reputation.

More reading:

Felice Beato, the Venetian who may have been the world's first war photographer

How war injuries suffered in Italy inspired the great writer Ernest Hemingway

The First World War nurse who was made a saint

Also on this day:

1118: The death of Adelaide del Vasto, Countess of Sicily

1839: The birth of Antonio Starabba, twice Italy's prime minister


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