Published on Wednesday, the 18th of May, 2011
Sir Denis Mahon, or simply Sir Denis as everybody knew him, has been a man of great inspiration and has played a very important role for Italy and for fine arts. He serenely passed away aged 100, in his house in London, on Easter day.
I first met him and started working with him over 20 years ago, but I always felt for his person that kind of veneration that only a Master inspires.
It has been to me a great privilege to be next to him, from a professional and personal point of view, to join him during his travels in Rome or Bologna, sometimes around Italy, and to discuss with him our work and passion: fine arts.
At the root of any attribution of a work to an author, there was always with him a very scrupulous, almost police-like investigation; “We have to search more!” he would say, staring at me from above his glasses, worn obliquely on the tip of his nose. And such a severe, albeit friendly, invitation would always lead me to conduct a more meticulous research.
He would often travel to Italy: Bologna and Rome his usual destinations.
Sir Denis Mahon is responsible for the raise in interest of the Italian Baroque; without his studies above all in the work of Guercino, like the Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Caravaggio, Poussin and many more, we would never have witnessed the great interest and appeal that exhibitions about those artists now foster in Italy and around the world.
Italian paintings of the XVII century are now renowned in the whole world and he, an Englishman, managed to bring back to Italy not less than seven works of Bolognese painting, formerly belonging to his collection. Since most of his belongings had been bequeathed to the National Gallery after the 1997 exhibition, he convinced the English Ministry of Culture to allow the exportation of some other paintings of his collection.
Thus one painting from Annibale Carracci, one from Domenichino, two from Guido Reni, two from Guercino and one more from Benedetto Gennari have been delivered and will be kept indefinitely in the Pinacoteca di Bologna, “so as there can be no mistake after my death” he used to say. Not to mention the purchases that he sponsored, again in Bologna, such as the Annunciazione by Ludovico Carracci, a painting that has disappeared from the Pinacoteca’s permanent exhibition rooms for mysterious reasons.
Sir Denis would often talk about the dispositions he left regarding those paintings belonging to his important collection, but was nevertheless a tireless worker and kept on coming up with new projects. Even in his older age, nothing would have stopped him in the face of something worth of his interest.
I remember one night, walking back from the restaurant to the hotel where he used to stay in Roma (the same hotel next to Piazza del Pantheon, in the same room he had been booking for the last 40 years), both of us tired from the day, he saw from afar a group of people entering the hall with a package that could easily be guessed as a painting and said abruptly “They’re bringing me a possible Guercino!” and releasing my arm, to which he’d been leaning on until then, sprinted away with the help of his cane in pursuit of the mysterious people carrying the painting.
Sir Denis has been a distinguished scholar, an illustrious collector, a great benefactor to Italy. He has always fought in order to bring back the paintings to where they belonged, i.e. to where they where born, like when he battled alone to prompt the acquisition from Italy of the Rebecca at the Well by Nicolas Poussin, a work painted in Roma from the great French master.
Sir Denis was a man who always did his best to help, speak and give advices to the Ministers and Ministry General Directors, often suggesting policies and projects to enhance and endorse the Italian cultural and artistic treasure, so as to look after it as opposed to treat it like a burden, as it is quite often the case in our country.
Sir Denis was indeed a great man.
curated by M. Letizia Paoletti