Fondation Marcello

The Fondation Marcello, based in Fribourg (Switzerland), was established in 1963 in order to preserve the estate and promote the œuvre of Adèle d’Affry, Duchess of Castiglione Colonna (1836-1879), sculptor and painter under the pseudonym ‘Marcello’.

Short biography

Adèle d’Affry is born into a distinguished patrician family from the Canton of Fribourg in 1836. Her father dies in her early childhood and she receives a traditional education for young girls of her class, including drawings and sculpture lessons. Aged 20 she is married in Rome to Carlo Colonna, Duke of Castiglione. Widowed nine months into her marriage she embarks on a career as an artist, largely self-taught, working primarily in the medium of scuplture. She first exhibits at the Paris Salon of 1863. From the outset, her desire to be recognised as a professional artist leads her to work under a male pseudonym ‘Marcello’, the name of an 18th century Italian composer.

The Duchesse Colonna, the name she is most frequently referred to in contemporary documents, spends her life between Paris, Rome and Fribourg. During her early Parisian stays she frequents political opposition circles. A lasting friendship with Adolphe Thiers results in a long and abundant correspondence. From 1863 she takes part in the like of the Imperial Court of the Second Empire . Early artist frienships include the sculptors Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux with whom she remains close until the end of his life, and Auguste Clésinger , the French sculptor working and living in Rome. Over the years, her circle of artist friends extends to painters Ernest Hébert , Henri Regnault and Mario Fortuny , composers and musicians Charles Gounod and Herbert Liszt and the writer Proper Mérimée . She shares her fate as ‘woman artist’ with Berthe Morisot of whom she makes a number of portraits. Her battle for official recognition is illustrated by a telling episode: she rejects Edouard Manet ’s proposal to paint her portrait for fear of being compromised by association with an enemy of the artistic establishment. Instead, Gustave Courbet paints her portrait in 1870.

In 1863, Marcello exhibits three works at the Paris Salon, including the Bianca Capello which meets with critical acclaim. Henceforth she exhibits regularly at the Salon and World Fairs under pseudonym, even if her identity is quickly uncovered. Her peripatetic life is spent in a triangle between Paris, Rome and her native Fribourg where she builds herself a studio preserved to this day. A long sojourn in Rome between January 1869 and April 1870 is a period of intense creativity and results in her opus magnus , the Pythie or Sybil, subsequently purchased by Charles Garnier for the new Paris opera house. A progressively failing health forces her to abandon sculpture for painting and drawing. She dies of tuberculosis at the age of 43 on 14 July 1879 in Castellamare on the Gulf of Naples. She designed the funerary monument for the grave where she is buried in Givisiez, near her native Fribourg.

The artist’s legacy

In her will, Marcello makes a significant bequest to the Canton of Fribourg of her own work and that of artist friends and contemporaries. In 1881 a Musée Marcello opens its doors to the public and remains so until the 1940s when her works are transferred to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire . Meanwhile the content of her studio, correspondence and personal belongings are being preserved by her mother and, after her death, the descendants of her sister. In 1963, the Fondation Marcello is established to preserve this heritage for future generations and to make it available for research and public dissemination.

As with many artists from the 19th century academic tradition, Marcello’s œuvre is largely forgotten after her death and only gradually re-discovered by art historians and the wider public since the 1970s, reflecting the growing interest in the role of women artists as well as the re-evaluation of the art of the 19th century academic tradition. That said Marcello’s work remains little known amongst the wider public, also because of the relatively limited representation of her work in public collections (including the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Carnavalet (Paris), the Musée des Beaux Arts (Lyon), the Musée des Beaux Arts (Marseille), the Victoria & Albert Museum (London), the Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The Fondation Marcello – objectives and work

The Fondation Marcello is Swiss foundation according to Art.80 of the Swiss Civil Code. Its objectives are :

  • To document, preserve and maintain the works of Marcello, documents and materials relating to the artist’s life and œuvre which are in the foundation’s ownership. This includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, correspondance, photographs and ephemera. These are preserved in the home of the artist in their historic setting.
  • To document work by Marcello held in other public and private collections, as well as research related to the artist’s work and related suject.
  • To promote the artist and her œuvre amongst professionals and the public at large.

We pursue our objectives in the main by:

  • Working with art historians and other academics
  • Collaborating with museums and other public institutions (including short and long term loans, exhibitions and other projects)

The Foundation also provides access to Marcello’s studio for groups (15-30) by prior appointment.

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