The Tesoriere Story
It’s rare to find an artist’s entire life’s work in one collection. It is even more uncommon to find that the collection is a veritable undiscovered treasure, brimming with precious jewels. This is the case with the exceptional work of the artist Ugo Tesoriere.
As a young man in his thirties, Tesoriere was an inspired collector of Degas, Morandi, and Manzu, yet he himself had never touched brush to canvas. So his metamorphic decision to abandon his successful medical practice in New York City and become an artist was an act of great courage.
His Sicilian parents had immigrated to Brooklyn to start a new life and struggled to give their children every opportunity. Ironically, their successful son was destined to return to Italy in pursuit of his own dream.
Tesoriere’s work is a true testament to his
spiritual & artistic journey.
Tesoriere, with the exception of two years at the Accademia di Belle Arti and a year at La Scuola del Nudo, was essentially self-taught. A voracious reader, he haunted libraries and museums discovering and absorbing the work of his predecessors.
Tesoriere, as a collector, was certainly aware also, of New York’s contemporary art scene in the 60’s. Yet, Warhol’s soup cans, Stella’s stripes and Lichtenstein’s exploded comics did not excite him. He may have had these artists in mind when he once commented “Stylization, let’s not forget, can bring fame and fortune. This is especially known in the states”. For Tesoriere, the quest was for what he called real art; and, for him, this always meant truth, especially in regard to his portraiture.
His importance as an artist comes not from groundbreaking genius, but from his ability to glean from those who came before him, assimilate what he observed, and reach his own conclusions in order to solve his problems of space, light, form, and plasticity. He learned from many, yet his work is very much his own. His work is a direct manifestation of his daily study, his integration of disparate visions and his search for beauty and truth. For Tesoriere, it was more about the journey and discovery than the final product. An artist’s work can be considered successful when it demonstrates, in a way understandable to others, the discoveries and landmarks of that journey.
Tesoriere concerned himself with the way
he saw the world around him and the expression
of that vision on canvas.
No matter what his subject, the face of a friend, trees in a field, or a small glass jar, Tesoriere saw beyond the surface into the spirit. All his subjects were imbued with the distinctive beauty and truth he perceived when he painted them.
His portraiture stands out as his strongest vehicle of expression. As he “looked intensely” at his models, he had the uncanny ability to see beyond the face, beyond the mask. He seemed to perceive the light in their souls. He could comprehend, and unveil these personalities on canvas for all to see.
Tesoriere painted the people around him from diplomats to doormen. Their position in life or occupation was not nearly as important to him as who they were as people. These sitters were all familiar to the artist and his wife Valeria. By introducing them to us through his paintings, he also gives us a glimpse into the story of their fascinating life together.
Buried within this treasure is a remarkable romance.
Ugo Tesoriere arrived in Rome, February 21, 1959. A mutual friend arranged for Valeria Giannini, well educated and a member of a noble Roman family, to meet him at the airport. After meeting him and learning of his plans to study art, she invited him to her upcoming birthday celebration. Her intent was to introduce him to friends that could be of help. The guest list included John Drumand, a close friend of Ezra Pound; artist Mimmo Spadini, who later became a mentor to Tesoriere; photographer Gastone Bozio, and a few family friends. With Valeria’s help, he soon acquired a small studio on the Vicolo della Penitenza in Trastevere, enrolled at the Academia and started working.
Sometime later, over dinner, they talked, and Tesoriere showed Valeria a small sketch of a bird he had done. Although many around him had been scandalized by his drastic decision to succumb to his passion for art, she was not, nor did she discourage him.
Over the next few years, their friendship and devotion to each other grew. They were eventually married and moved into a palazzo on the Via Giulia. Below their apartment, Tesoriere worked in a spacious studio, flooded with Roman light. Here, he painted for close to 40 years, steadfastly supported and guided by Valeria. She was his constant muse; he was her mission in life. Under her tutelage, he visited the great art of Europe and painted the models she suggested.
Their lives were filled with many of the fascinating people who posed for Tesoriere. Among them, were writer Elio Bartolini, the daughters of musician Rosario Scalero, students from the seminary
of St. Anselmo, and Austrian BP Executive, Harry Von Sthal,
Although Valeria arranged exhibitions for him in Rome, Berlin, Spoleto, and Viterbo, Tesoriere never received the accolades he deserved as an artist. Like many before him, his work needed the perspective of time in order to be appreciated. But Valeria’s abiding inspiration sustained him through periods of self-doubt until his death in November 2000.
At 93, though physically fragile, she remained mentally alert and remembered with great detail the captivating stories of their intriguing life together. The little sketch of a bird still hangs in her bedroom.
Tesoriere’s life’s work, his library, and the contents
of his studio are entrusted to the safekeeping
of the Trappist Monastery, Mepkin Abbey.
After Tesoriere's death in Rome in November 2000, the fruit
of Tesorieres labor, comprising over four hundred paintings and numerous works on paper was given to Mepkin Abbey,
a Trappist monastery in Charleston, South Carolina.
Francis Kline, Abbot of Mepkin, was the recipient of this great bequest. Having married late in life and having no children of their own, Ugo and Valeria “adopted” Brother Francis when he was a studying for the priesthood in Rome in the early 1980’s. They thought of him as their son. Because of Abbot Francis’s deep appreciation of Tesoriere’s work, and because monasteries have long been the vigilant guardians of art and literature, Tesoriere’s decision to leave his legacy with Mepkin was inspired. Because of the extent of this fortuitous bequest, we have the necessary tools to study Tesoriere’s life and his development as an artist.
“Tesoriere” in Italian, means keeper of the treasure. In a sense, Abbot Francis took the name of his “adoptive” parents. He truly became a “Tesoriere”.
Unfortunately, Abbot Francis was diagnosed with cancer just before the Collection had its debut Exhibition at the City Gallery in Charleston in 2003. He died in 2006 at the age of 57.
As the years passed, it was decided that Mepkin could no longer care for the Collection. The most important of Tesoriere's work was sent to Abbot Jeremy Driscoll of My Angel Abbey in Oregon, who has now taken on the responsibility of caring for Ugo's legacy.
Abbot Jeremy, who studied in Rome with Abbot Francis was also an important member of this close familial circle of the Tesorieres' in Rome. Ugo painted both these young men during that time.
Francis as a student in Rome
Jeremy as a student in Rome