Remembering Richard Serrin, U.S. Florence Artist
Magenta Publishing and Vista magazine would like to commemorate Richard Serrin, who passed recently, a local resident who called the city of the Renaissance home for over a half a century.
He was one of the first post-war American artists to make a life and career in Florence. Like others before him, he chose to come to Europe where he could find traditional means of artistic expression still in practice and on display in museums.
A long-time member of the British Institute Library along with his wife Dorothy, Serrin often gave a Wednesday lecture (the last was in 2016) on artistic subjects ranging from Giotto and Michelangelo to Rembrandt and Watteau in addition to “Art, Mirror of the Soul,” where he reflected on the nature of art and beauty. Guests knew they would have to arrive early for Serrin’s talk in order to find a seat.
The following is an excerpt from an article published in Vista, Florence & Tuscany spotlighting Serrin as part of a group of eight American artists resident in Florence honored with an exhibition organized by the U.S. Consulate.
Over the centuries, American artists have been drawn to Florence—Benjamin West, John Singer Sargent, and Frank Lloyd Wright are only a small part of the eclectic group that have used the city’s medieval and Renaissance art and architecture as a backdrop to create their work. A virtual mecca for historical émigrés and expatriates, Florence still inspires modern artists, many of whom continue to live and work here today. Their art reflects some of the contradictions, complications, and above all the beauty of Italy, infused by a unique, cross-cultural perspective.
In his studio, artist Richard Serrin reminisces about the five decades he has spent in Florence. Behind him are large windows that frame Brunelleschi’s dome and the Arno as it flows under the Ponte Vecchio and meanders towards Pisa. The other walls are lined from floor to ceiling with art and rows of books boasting titles like Piero della Francesca and Techniques of the Masters.
On the far wall is the Titian-inspired bacchanal scene painted by Serrin, with toga-clad goddesses captured in dance while tiny cupids glide playfully above. “But there’s more to this if you look closer,” Serrin says, pointing out scenes from Ovid and other classical and mythical references he has brushed into the piece.
Though Serrin was trained in modern methods of painting, he now works in the Renaissance-Baroque tradition, taking months to carefully work in layers of oil into a finished work. During the height of the 1950s Abstract Expressionist movement, he was pursuing a master’s degree at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, which was part of the period’s avant-garde. His present style and technique are rooted in figure drawing and generally depict classical and biblical themes. After marrying Dorothy Brunke, Serrin spent a brief period in the ‘60s studying the light in Vermeer’s painting in Amsterdam before making his wife’s dream of living in Florence a reality. He makes his living solely from private and public commissions, and has occasionally shared his knowledge of art with instruction and critiques over the years.
It is rare that Serrin misses a day of painting in his home studio. Sitting in front of the Florentine skyline, the sun casts its late afternoon shadows over the rooftops highlighting the white bristles of Serrin’s beard. He pauses for a moment before delivering a deliberate and articulate response to each question. “With the rise of modern media that delivers instantaneous impact, most people are not used to stopping and really reading into a painting,” he says. “In fact, painting is as difficult to understand as mathematics.” (rosanna cirigliano)