Who Were Stefano and Ugo Bardini?

Stefano Bardini


Stefano Bardini, a wealthy Italian art collector and dealer, almost certainly owned the 1785 Delapierre portrait. How and when he acquired it is unknown. (Courtesy of Fondazione Parchi Monumentale Bardini e Peyron.)

Stefano Bardini (13 April 1836 – 12 September 1922) was an internationally renowned Italian antiquarian, art restorer, and art dealer in the late-19th and early-20th centuries.1 He was trained as a painter in Florence, began collecting in the 1870s, and became a major dealer in old masters shortly thereafter.

Many well-known works of Renaissance and other art now in major collections throughout the world passed through his hands, including a work attributed to a youthful Michelangelo.2 3

About 30 works of Renaissance art in The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., were once owned by Stefano.4

After years of business activity, Stefano transformed some of his collection into a museum and willed it upon his death in 1922 to the Municipality of Florence.5 Museo Stefano Bardini was thereby established and opened to the public in 1925. The Italian state acquired the Bardini complex, comprising Palazzo Mozzi Bardini, the villa and garden, plus the main part of the Bardini archive,6 in 1995-1996.7

Ugo Bardini

C:\Users\Lynn and Rich\Documents\Rich's stuff\My Documents\Documents-personal\art\WebSite\Page-Bardinis\ugo bardini.JPG

Ugo Bardini owned the 1785 Delapierre portrait, probably inheriting it from his father, Stefano, in 1922. He sold it to Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, on 1 October 1928. (Courtesy of Archivio Bardini.)

Ugo Bardini (17 March 1892 – 27 September 1965)8 was the adopted son of Stefano Bardini.9 He trained as a military officer in Rome at an early age and enrolled at Accademia Militare di Modena—the world's first military academy. He remained at the academy until August 1914, shortly before the outbreak of World War I.

Ugo had no interest in the business of his father prior to his father's death in 1922. After inheriting his father's collection, however, he became a successful antiquarian and art dealer.10

Researchers at Archivio Bardini in Florence, Italy, concluded that the 1785 Delapierre portrait—although known to have been owned by Ugo—probably was not purchased by him. They believe that, like virtually all of Ugo's collection, it most likely was acquired by his father.11

From other sources, we know that Stefano was deaccessioning his collection by April 1918 and had probably stopped purchasing art by then.12 So, if Stefano indeed owned the 1785 Delapierre portrait, it was probably obtained by him prior to April 1918.

Ugo's Correspondence Discussing the 1785 Delapierre Portrait

Ugo discussed the portrait in six letters written in Florence and now possessed by Archivio Bardini.13 The first four letters were written in Italian; the last two in English.

In a letter dated 18 October 1927 to "Sg. Brémont"—probably Henri Brémont, formerly comte Enrico Bosdari14 15—Ugo wrote:

Photograph of 1785 Delapierre portrait taken in the late-19th or early-20th century, recently found at Archivio Bardini in Florence, Italy. It is almost certainly a copy of the photo mentioned by Ugo Bardini in his 27 October 1927 letter. (Courtesy of Archivio Bardini.)

[Translated from Italian] Thank you for your letter of 19 [September] past, and for the information contained in the letter to my sister [Emma Bardini Tozzi]16 about the painting of de La Pierre. I forgot to tell you that, looking at the picture in a better light, I could clearly read "La Pierre" and not "Paul." It was impossible, on the other hand, to decipher the other word written below the signature.17 Mr. "Volorn" [sp?] (American living in Paris – art writer – passionate about French 18th century) will assist with the examination of the painting, of which he thinks highly even though the artist is unknown to him.18

In a follow-up letter to Sg. Brémont dated 27 October 1927, Ugo continued:

[Translated from Italian] I am sending you a not-very-good photo of the de La Pierre painting because I am very interested in this virtually unknown artist. I will try to decipher the word under the signature. I regret not having written in my last [letter] the initials of the artist—an omission due to the intention of checking the two letters on the painting before sending the letter, and then forgetting to do so.19 In the photo that I will send, a part of the frame is missing because the photographic plate was placed incorrectly in the camera body.20 21

In a third letter to Sg. Brémont, dated 9 November 1927, Ugo wrote:

[Translated from Italian] Mr. Paulme's22 opinion interests me. I would like to know if the difference in technique one sees in my picture (thick in the skin, a bit thin and diffused in the rest) is typical of de La Pierre. I cannot decipher the words written below  the signature. If they hold an exhibition in Paris of private 18th-century paintings, I shall willingly send mine.

A fourth letter, dated 1 October 1928, was to Ugo's commissioner—"Sg. Egidi":

[Translated from Italian] I send a box containing the items described below to be sent at the greatest speed to: Mr. Thomas Agnew & Sons, 43 Old Bond Street, London. All expenses (including export taxes) are on me. Noted items: Framed portrait on canvas – "Portrait of a young man who writes" – 18 C [18th century] – Lire 5,000 [about $263].

[This was followed by a list of other items.]

In a fifth letter, written in English to "Mr. Agnew" and dated 2 October 1928, Ugo wrote:

I thank you for your kind letter from Rome…Today I have delivered to my commissioner the three frames and the picture you bought…The commissioner promised me to deliver the objects at the latest the 14th of the month. I don't believe very much in his promises but I hope that this time he will keep his word. I enclose [a] copy of the opinion expressed by Mr. Paulme (the French expert) on a photo of the portrait "de La Pierre" shown to him by Mr. Bremont who reported it to me by letter. I think it may interest you.

Finally, in a sixth letter, written in English to Thomas Agnew & Sons and dated 27 October 1928, Ugo wrote:

While thanking you, I acknowledge receipt of your draft for the sum of Lire 33,000 (thirty three thousand Italian Lire) in payment of three old frames and a painting by de La Pierre.

An entry in a ledger at Thos. Agnew & Sons, London, corroborates the details of the sale.23

The correspondence above confirms that the 1785 Delapierre portrait was owned by Ugo Bardini (i.e., he was not an intermediary for someone else); that it was located in Florence, Italy, while owned by him; and that it was delivered from there to Thos. Agnew & Sons in London.

It also reveals that Ugo did not know the identity of the sitter—referring to the subject only as "a young man who writes"—and that the artist's signature was difficult to read when Ugo owned the painting. This suggests that the painting underwent thorough cleaning sometime after Ugo wrote the correspondence above, because the artist's full signature ("B.N. de la Pierre") is now very clear.

References and notes

[1] Stefano Bardini (Fondazione Parchi Monumentali Bardini e Peyron). Stefano Bardini, Biografia.

[2] Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, "A Marble in Manhattan: The Case for Michelangelo," The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 138, No. 1123, October 1996, pp. 644-659.

[3] Kathleen Weil-Garris Brandt, "More on Michelangelo and the Manhattan Marble," The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 139, No. 1131, June 1997, pp. 400-404.

[5] The building where the museum is housed was purchased by Stefano Bardini in 1881 and renovated to accommodate his antiques business. (See Museo Stefano Bardini.)

[6] Archivio Bardini, Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, Soprintendenza Speciale per il Patrimonio Storico, Artistico ed Etnoantropologico e per il Polo Museale della città di Firenze—S.S.P.S.A.E. e P.M.F.

[7] This was the legacy of Stefano Bardini's adopted son, Ugo Bardini. Ugo died in 1965, but acquisition of his holdings by the Italian state was delayed for almost 30 years due to a difficult clause in Ugo's will. (Source: Private corresponence with Dr. Stefano Tasselli, Archivio Bardini, Florence, Italy, 17 October 2011.)

[8] Stefano Bardini, La famiglia Bardini, Ugo Bardini. L' eredità Bardini, La donazione di Ugo.

[9] Valerie Niemeyer Chini, Stefano Bardini e Wilhelm Bode. Mercanti e Connaisseur fra Ottocento e Novecento, Polistampa, Firenze, 2009.

[10] Stefano Bardini, La famiglia Bardini, Ugo Bardini.

[11] Dr. Stefano Tasselli, Archivio Bardini, Florence, Italy; private correspondence, May 2010. Dr. Everett Fahy, Chairman of European Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, expressed a similar view in 2005. According to Dr. Fahy, who in 2000 had published the definitive book on Stefano Bardini's photographic archive (see note 20 below): "Chances are, if Ugo Bardini sold [the 1785 Delapierre portrait], it belonged to his father. I am unaware of Ugo's ever purchasing a work of art." (Private correspondence from Dr. Everett Fahy, 24 January 2005.)

[13] Dr. Stefano Tasselli, Archivio Bardini, Florence, Italy; private correspondence, May 2010.

[14] Colin Simpson, Artful Partners: Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, 1986, pp. 96-98.

[16] Emma Bardini Tozzi (6 November 1883 – 1962), adopted daughter of Stefano, was a landscape painter who taught art to needy children at the Istituto Demidoff in the San Niccolò quarter. She frequently traveled with her father on his buying trips, and consequently may have known the previous owner of the 1785 Delapierre portrait. Emma married Peter Tozzi in 1923—the year after her father's death.

Emma Bardini Tozzi, 1883-1962. (Courtesy of Fondazione Parchi Monumentale Bardini e Peyron.)

[17] This small, cryptic, barely legible inscription just below the artist's signature on the 1785 Delapierre portrait has been imaged and analyzed by the research team. By one interpretation, it might have a bearing on the Thomas Jefferson attribution.

Writing below signature on 1785 Delapierre portrait.

[18] The research team has been unable to identify "Mr. Volorn" or locate any of his writings. They also are uncertain of the spelling of the name, as transcribed from Ugo Bardini's 18 October 1927 letter. Other possible spellings include "Volom."

Portion of 18 October 1927 letter from Ugo Bardini to Brémont that mentions "Volorn" [sp?]. (Courtesy of Archivio Bardini.)

[19] The initials to which Ugo refers almost certainly are "B.N."—for "Benjamin Nicolas."

[20] Stefano Bardini produced an extensive photographic archive documenting his holdings—the first of its type ever created for a major collection. (See Everett Fahy's L'Archivio Storico Fotografico di Stefano Bardini, Alberto Bruschi Editore, Florence, Italy, 2000.) Not shown in Fahy's book, a late-19th or early-20th century photograph of the 1785 Delapierre portrait—likely a part of Stefano's photographic archive—was recently discovered at Archivio Bardini in Florence, Italy. (A picture of this old photograph is shown in the main narrative above.) This was the "not-very-good photo of the de La Pierre painting" that Ugo Bardini described in his 27 October 1927 letter to Sg. Brémont. Although, as Ugo noted in his letter, the photographic plate was misaligned in the camera, the resolution of the photo is excellent and provides an accurate indication of the condition of the painting at the time the picture was taken. (The image of the old photograph was sent to our researchers by Dr. Stefano Tasselli at Archivio Bardini on 25 September 2010. Dr. Tasselli has been leading recent research on the portrait at Archivio Bardini.)

[21] Written on the corner of the Bardini photograph of the Delapierre painting is the number "592." The research team initially thought that this number might provide a clue regarding when the picture was taken. But recent research at Archivio Bardini revealed that the number was inscribed on the photographic negative by an archivist long after the original photo was taken. (Source: Private correspondence with Dr. Stefano Tasselli, Archivio Bardini, Florence, Italy, 17 October 2011.)

Detail from Bardini picture showing inventory number "592." (Courtesy of Archivio Bardini.)

[22] Almost certainly Paul-Émile Marius Paulme (1863-1928), an influential expert in French 18th-century drawings. (See Dictionary of pastellists before 1800, Biographical Index of Collectors.) Despite attempts at Agnew's and Archivio Bardini, researchers so far have been unable to locate the copy of "Paulme's opinion" mentioned by Ugo Bardini in his 9 November 1927 letter to Sg. Brémont and in his 2 October 1928 letter to "Mr. Agnew."

[23] Shown below are labels on the back of the 1785 Delapierre canvas stretcher and the entry for item number "6899" in an inventory ledger of Thos. Agnew & Sons, London. The ledger line indicates that the portrait was purchased from Ugo Bardini on 1 October 1928 and sold for $3,000.00 to Josef Stransky on 5 March 1929. The price paid to Bardini is coded in this ledger. The penciled comment—"See paper copy of Paulme's opinion"—refers to the enclosure that accompanied Ugo's 2 October 1928 letter to "Mr. Agnew." The ledger entry "Pierre J. de la (1763)" reflects the illegibility of the actual signature ("B.N. de la Pierre") and date ("1785") at the time the painting was sold to Thos. Agnew & Sons. "Roma" [Rome] probably refers to the location where "Mr. Agnew" negotiated the purchase from Ugo.

Large label on back of 1785 Delapierre canvas stretcher.  

Small label on back of 1785 Delapierre canvas stretcher (item number "6899").

Entry in Thos. Agnew & Sons inventory ledger for item number "6899," purchased from Ugo Bardini on 1 October 1928. (Courtesy of Agnew's, London.)

Part of Thos. Agnew & Sons inventory ledger showing item number, artist ("Pierre, J. [sic] de la"), date ("1763" [sic]), working title ("Young man writing"), and penciled-in note (see below). (Courtesy of Agnew's, London.)

Penciled-in note ("See paper copy of Paulme's opinion"). (Courtesy of Agnew's, London.)

Part of inventory ledger showing canvas size in inches (29½ x 24½), seller (Ugo Bardini, Roma), and coded sales information. (Courtesy of Agnew's, London.)

Part of inventory ledger showing buyer ["Josef Stransky (Wildenstein Co)"], date of sale (5 March 1929), price ($3,000), and place of sale (NY). (Courtesy of Agnew's, London.)