Viareggio, that heartland of seaside art nouveau offered the jewel in its crown of ville and villette for public viewing yesterday as part of the FAI open weekend.
The villa Argentina is a masterpiece of architecture and decoration in which both the great Galileo Chini and Alfredo Belluomini collaborated. The original building dated from 1868 but was restructured by the two great exponents of ‘lo stile liberty’ in the 1920’s. Built at the corner of two streets its exterior is enhanced by an elegant L-shaped layout and its cupid depicting tiles. The villa was originally commissioned by Francesca Rocca Oytana, of Argentinian descent.
Villa Argentina later became a hotel and was expanded. By the end of the last century, however, it had fallen into a sorry state of dilapidation.
It was then that Viareggio council with the help of government arts funds bought it and began its restoration which, with the typical on-off syndrome so prevalent in this country took longer than envisaged. Finally, in November 2014, the villa Argentina was re-opened and its garden re-laid according to its original plans which include a rare species of tree from Argentina itself
The interior is dominated by the spectacular ball-room decorated in Chini’s most delicate orientalising style, this time veering towards Persian influence. There is a lovely fresco depicting the preparation for a tiger-hunt by Giuseppe Biasi who spent much of his time living in exotic countries. I have no hesitation in saying that this is one of the most beautiful rooms I have ever seen in my life. It is simply magic.
The other rooms are a little more sober, although their floors are marvellous:
The rooms formed ideal backgrounds to a remarkable exhibition of sculpture and water colours by Czech-born artist Ivan Theimer and his theme of ‘other worlds’. This exhibition should deservedly require a separate post. It was fascinating. Theimer seems to have reincarnated ancient Etruscan, Egyptian and Classical themes in a virtuoso and haunting manner.
I particularly enjoyed his statue of a boy with dolphin and the models of monuments which have been erected in some major European squares.
What I most enjoyed, however, were the artist’s delicately observed water colours from Uzbekistan to Vietnam to China and India which fitted in so well with the oriental feel of the villa. We recognized several places we’d visited including Petra, Ha Long bay and that amazing waterfall in Laos:
If anyone has a heart for art nouveau then this extraordinarily fine villa has to be on their must-see list. Built at the very end of that glorious period of art and architecture it is a superb summing up of everything that I most value of what the Italians call ‘lo stile liberty’. Indeed, Villa Argentina will becomes a centre for the study of art nouveau as it so spaciously flowered in Viareggio’s golden years.