The reputation of Magnasco, one of the most individual eighteenth-century painters, resides in the exuberance of his technique and the fantasy of his subject matter. Here people from the fringes of society have gathered to watch the spectacle of a man trying to teach a magpie to sing—an impossible task. The picture was probably painted when Magnasco was working for the Medici in Florence and was in contact with Sebastiano Ricci.
[Julius Böhler, Munich, 1966; sold to Thaw]; [E. V. Thaw, New York, 1966–84; sold to MMA]
London. Artemis. "An Exhibition of Paintings by Fetti and Magnasco," November 16–December 20, 1977, no. 4.
An Exhibition of Paintings by Fetti and Magnasco. Exh. cat., Artemis. London, 1977, unpaginated, no. 4, ill. in color (overall and detail on cover), suggests that it may have been painted in Milan in the early 1720s; adds that "The Gypsy Family" (formerly Sambon collection, Paris) may have been a pendant.
B[enedict]. N[icolson]. "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions." Burlington Magazine 119 (December 1977), p. 873, notes that "the details of magpie and barrels is [sic] in the best tradition of North Italian genre".
Michael Hunt Stolbach. Spencer A. Samuels, Inaugural Exhibition: Master Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. Exh. cat., Spencer A. Samuels. New York, 1984, unpaginated, under no. 6.
Keith Christiansen inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions, 1984–1985. New York, 1985, p. 26, ill., notes that Sebastiano Ricci based a painting (Musée Calvet, Avignon) on Magnasco's first version of this subject (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence), and that Ricci's work may have influenced the "blond palette and rich surface treatment" of the MMA picture, which would suggest a date of about 1707–8, when both Ricci and Magnasco were in Florence.
An Exhibition of Master Drawings. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1992, unpaginated, under no. 35, mentions it in connection with a drawing of the same subject by Giuseppe Maria Crespi.
Laura Muti et al. Alessandro Magnasco. Faenza, 1994, pp. 226–27, no. 152, fig. 447, as formerly with a London art dealer; attribute the figures to Magnasco and the background to an unknown collaborator.
The subject was depicted by Magnasco on several occasions (see Benno Geiger, Magnasco, Bergamo, 1949), first in a canvas (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence) painted for Ferdinando de' Medici, by whom Magnasco was employed between 1703 and 1710. The MMA picture probably dates from about 1707–8, when Magnasco was in contact with Sebastiano Ricci.
Artist: Alessandro Magnasco (Italian, Genoa 1667–1749 Genoa)Date: 1687–1749Medium: Brush and brown wash, highlighted with white, over traces of black chalk, on light brown paperAccession: 53.169On view in:Not on view
Artist: Alessandro Magnasco (Italian, Genoa 1667–1749 Genoa)Date: ca. 1705–20Medium: Brush and brown wash, highlighted with white gouache, on light tan paperAccession: 2006.393.17On view in:Not on view
Artist: Alessandro Magnasco (Italian, Genoa 1667–1749 Genoa)Date: n.d.Medium: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash, highlighted with white gouache, over black chalk, on blue paperAccession: 2006.393.16On view in:Not on view