The Idol Of The Hour

Above is a beautiful image of an oarsman, which was on the front cover of the London magazine The Sphere on Saturday, 30 March, 1912. Below the drawing it states: “One of the Idols of the Hour – A Boat-Race Study by F. Matania”. We do not know if it is an Oxford or a Cambridge man – perhaps he is more the ideal of an oarsman with his noble face and his eyes dreamily gazing into the distance. Two oars are being carried out to the water in the background; it seems the crew is getting ready to embark. The oarsman is unaffected by the hullabaloo going on among the spectators, who in the picture are just a blurry mob beneath him. Instead, he is showing great confidence. Maybe he would not be so collected if he knew what was waiting for him, his crew, and their opponents on this very blustery day on the River Thames.

As we all know, the 1912 Boat Race should turn out to be a historic race as both crews sank due to bad weather conditions (it was re-rowed on the following Monday; Oxford won). Read a race report here. But who was the artist, who so wonderfully depicted this dignified creature of a man?

‘F. Matania’ stood for Chevalier Fortunino Matania, who was born in 1881 in Naples, Italy. Matania met success early in life. At 14, he helped his father, an artist, to illustrate books and magazines. Between 1895 and 1902, young Matania created works for the magazine L’Illustrazione Italiania. In 1902, he left for Paris, but was shortly thereafter invited by The Graphic to London for the Coronation of Edward VII, and so began the Italian’s ‘cooperation’ with the British Crown; he would cover royal events, marriage, christening, funeral and coronations – the last one being the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

In 1904, Matania joined The Sphere, where some of his most famous illustrations would show up, among them the illustration of the handsome ‘Blue’ on top. One of his most famous illustrations before the First World War, actually appeared a few weeks after the one of the oarsman. On the late evening of 14 April, 1912, the ‘unsinkable’ ocean liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank a couple of hours later, on 15 April, which Matania later illustrated in The Sphere. See his illustration on the right.

Some of his most celebrated and emotional works were produced during the First World War, when Matania became a war artist drawing realistic images from the trenches. His most acclaimed painting was entitled ‘Goodbye, Old Man’. It shows a British soldier saying farewell to his horse, which is laying dying on the road. To see that painting, please click here.

After the war, Matania started working for British and American magazines, and when, in 1929, the British woman’s magazine, Britannia and Eve, was launched he became their artist for the next 19 years. He filled his studio with ‘stuff’ that would help him create realistic images for the magazines. Many of his illustrations were of half-nude women, because the readers demanded it, he would say.

Fortunino Matania died in 1963.

Here is a news reel from 1932, showing Matania working in his studio – click on the b/w image to start:


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