On June 28, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), will unveil Museum Epiphany III (2012), a work that features visitors viewing sculptures and paintings in one of its Art of the Americas Wing galleries. The recently completed painting by local artist Warren Prosperi (b. 1949) will be on view in the MFA’s Penny and Jeff Vinik Gallery (The Salon: Americans Abroad in the 19th Century) — the very gallery that it depicts. Museum Epiphany III was acquired by the MFA with funds provided by MFA Trustee David Croll and his wife, Victoria, who are Museum Great Benefactors.
“Visitors will be surprised and delighted by this imaginative painting and will no doubt do a ‘double take’ when they realize that they are part of the setting,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director of the MFA. “Warren Prosperi has created a remarkable work of art that captures a moment in time in the life of the Museum.”
The focal point of the 4’ by 3’ realist-style painting is a mother and daughter engaged in conversation and wearing flowing white dresses that echo the draping of gowns on two nearby marble statues. Other visitors are viewing 19th-century paintings by American artists. This is Prosperi’s third work inspired by the MFA and the first to be acquired by the Museum. Earlier works Museum Epiphany I and Museum Epiphany II (both 2009) depict visitors observing classical sculpture in the MFA’s Greek and Roman galleries.
“The Epiphany series tries to take advantage of the special quality of the Museum environment, where works of art and the visitors produce a powerful dialogue: between creative minds of the past and both sensitive and distracted viewers of the present. The Epiphany title refers to the sometimes transporting insights which can occur during that dialogue,” said Warren Prosperi.
Museum Epiphany III offers a contemporary take on paintings of museum interiors, a genre that documents collections both real and imagined. It is reminiscent of works long represented in the Museum’s collection, three of which are displayed in the Salon gallery—The Picture Gallery in the Old Museum (1879) and View of a Gallery in the Museum of Fine Arts, Copley Square (1877) , both by Enrico Meneghelli (1853–after 1912), who illustrates MFA galleries and works of art as they appeared when the Museum first opened its doors in Copley Square in 1876, as well as The Tribuna of the Uffizi (about 1830–33) by Amasa Hewins (1795–1855), a recent gift to the Museum. One of the best known of this type of painting in the MFA’s collection is Picture Gallery with Views of Modern Rome (1757) by Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691–1765), on view in the Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery (Europe, 1700–1800).
Warren Prosperi is a self-educated artist known for a realist style and an ability to make his subjects come to life, prompting viewers to ponder what they are thinking. He learned his craft by spending four years copying works by Old Master artists at the MFA. His wife, Lucia, is his artistic collaborator. Their work has been shown at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, the Air Gallery in London, a solo show at the Lyman Allyn Museum in New London, CT, and, most recently, a solo show at Vose Gallery in Boston, which represents the Prosperis.
“Warren’s story—from his beginnings as a student learning to paint in museum galleries, to his current position as an accomplished artist—is inspiring, and evokes the path taken by many 19th-century painters,” said David Croll. “This latest work celebrates the Art of the Americas Wing in a unique way.”
The Properis invited friends and family members, some from Massachusetts, to serve as models for Museum Epiphany III, including Amy Henry (woman dressed in white looking in purse) of Park City, UT, Lucia Prosperi’s niece and the mother of the little girl, Julia Henry; Dr. Alice Flaherty (far left figure), a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital; Jean Roetter (woman in hat), Lucia’s mother and a resident of Westborough, MA; Annie Salter (holding Jean’s arm), Lucia’s cousin from Lisbon, NH; Chuck Hamel (far right figure), who lives in Southborough; and Chris Greene (figure leaning into painting), who works at Vose Galleries.