NEW YORK — Antonio Cirino (1888-1983) is best known for his lush and jewel-toned landscapes, particularly of the Cape Ann/Rockport, Massachusetts coastline. Emigrating from Italy as a toddler, he grew up in the Italian American section of Providence, R.I., and first set foot in Rockport in the 1920s. He then regularly summered here while spending winters in Providence. This was during the height of the Progressive Era when artists began flocking to idyllic and scenic places throughout the Northeast to paint. Artist colonies were established in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Long Island, Cape Cod and the Catskills to name a few. The Cape Ann and Rockport/Gloucester areas were particularly appealing to artists and many flocked here.
While biographical information on Cirino’s youth is scant, it would appear that his family prospered in their adopted country. They not only owned a home in Providence but also had acquired eight land lots by the time his father died in 1914.
In 1909, he graduated from the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design and then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree at Columbia Teachers College. Like many of his fellow artists at the time, Cirino studied art in Europe, spending about a year in France and Italy. He returned to RISD to teach jewelry design, which he did for 35 years. He is best known as a painter but he also was a writer and jewelry designer, who even co-authored a key book on jewelry design that was first published in 1949.
The Rockport coastline that first enthralled him in the 20s held sway over him all his life, and it was here he painted most of his most important canvases. He also became part of the landscape, figuratively, working to sustain this area as a haven for artists. He was a founding member of the Rockport Art Association & Museum (1921) and donated paintings to help the museum form its collection. Cirino also bequeathed many of his paintings to the organization to help it continue its work after his passing; annual art auctions began here nearly 40 years ago. He also left paintings to the Salmagundi Club in New York City, where he was a non-resident artist member from 1926 to 1983.
Among his most renowned and desirable artworks depicting the Rockport area were those depicting fisherman and boats. He was quite skilled at composition but he was especially noted for how he replicated the effects of light playing across water. One such painting is an oil on canvas depicting Cape Ann’s Inner Harbor with a golden late day sunlight that made $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in Rockport Art Association & Museum’s annual art auction in October 2020.
Not surprisingly given Rockport’s coastal setting, boats made frequent appearances in his paintings, such as a Salmagundi Club oil painting titled Sailboats in harbor (shown at top of page), which realized $6,400 for the club in October 2022. The composition is lush overall, and the vividly colored hillside homes vie for attention with the equally appealing, brightly-colored sailing boats set against the deep blue water.
A bit more muted by comparison, Fisherman Shack is a 10-by-12-inch painting that packs a lot into a small canvas. This painting is honed with a draftsman’s eye and utilizes a paler color palette for the homes, putting the focus squarely on the eponymous shack. The painting brought $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Rockport Art Association & Museum in May 2021.
Impressionism was a prevalent style during Cirino’s lifetime, and in his case, it perhaps resulted from his first-hand exposure to French art. This artistic style was also well suited to the Rockport and Cape Ann landscapes. A noted en plein air painter, Cirino excelled not just at coastal landscapes but all landscapes in all seasons throughout the year. Autumn in New England is especially striking as trees change their leaves from green to brilliant reds, yellows and oranges. Covered Bridge is one of Cirino’s quintessential depictions of New England in autumn. The covered bridge is at the heart of the painting but nearly takes second billing to the riotous fall colors surrounding it. The artwork was auctioned for $5,200 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at the Salmagundi Club.
A striking example depicting the majesty of New England fall foliage is ‘Covered Bridge,’ which sold for $5,200 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Salmagundi Club. Image courtesy of Salmagundi Club and LiveAuctioneersA similar painting, Fall Stroll, depicts an impressionist view of a woman, child and a pet walking in a field with a town or village in the background. It’s late autumn though in this scene as there are only a few leaves left on the trees but the painting is still resplendent. The houses are quite colorful in their own right and several echo the autumn theme in their coloration. Cirino is best celebrated for his small paintings with jewel tones such as this 8-by-10-inch painting that brought $8,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023 at Rockport Art Association & Museum.
In a May 1931 issue of a RISD newspaper, The Student Designer, Cirino, the then-head of the school’s jewelry and silversmithing department, wrote of art and the exhilaration of mastering creative work. Saying the best works are often described as perfect jewels, he even used the French phrase, “c’est une joyau,” which roughly translates to “it’s a gem.” Certainly many of Cirino’s paintings have also been described in just such a manner and among New England impressionists, his work stands out.
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