The Grosso case
A painting included in the first International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice in 1895 stirred much commotion and curiosity: it was Giacomo Grosso's Supreme Meeting, a then famous artist, and a professor at the Accademia Albertina in Turin.
The president of the Academy, the Count of Sambuy, recommended that the Mayor Riccardo Selvatico placed “the painting of audacious and fantastical composition” in a good light. Since Grosso was one of the artists invited to the Biennale, and since the first citizen knew his value well, Selvatico reassured the Count about his intentions, but he could not foresee “which, and how many troubles that painting would have caused him!” (as Romolo Bazzoni noted in his history of the Biennale).
The work reached the exhibiton on the 10th April 1895. As soon as it was removed from its packing case, it astonished everyone who saw it. The painting depicted a coffin surrounded by five nude female figures. The painter intended to represent the end of a Don Juan. For those whose task was to hang the artwork, the only worry came from the strong contrast of colours that could disturb the viewing of the surrounding paintings, whereas for the managers of the Exhibition, the unease was due to the subject matter of the painting, which could offend the morality of the visitors.
The following day however, the Patriarch of Venice, Giuseppe Sarto (later to become Pope Pious X), wrote a letter to Selvatico asking that the work which he had heard about, should not be exhibited. The Mayor replied wih the verdict from the Commission and indeed, the work participated in the first exhibition, although it was placed in a rather isolated room.
The clerical press cried out about the scandal, the foreign and Italian press also mentioned the circumstance, fueling public curiosity all the more. At the end of the Exhibition, the prize assigned by a popular poll was awarded to Grosso’s painting, which resulted in yet further polemic.
A company later bought the painting in order to make it more widely known in the United States, where its reputation had already landed. But the Supreme Meeting was destroyed in a fire whilst crossing the ocean.