According to the former owner of this portrait, Mrs. Tortelli, the subject represented in this painting is Augusta Popoff Berdnicoff, a married Russian woman to whom Boccioni gave painting lessons in Paris during his stay in Paris.
Augusta Popoff, wife of a government official of Tsarist Russia, Sergej Berdnicoff.
Boccioni gave drawing lessons, for 50 francs a month, to the beautiful "very elegant" lady, then he became friends with her husband so much that in August he left with them for Tzaritzin while she was already three months pregnant.
Umberto was eager to visit the homeland of Dostoevski and Tolstoi. At first he was amazed at the scuffles that broke out everywhere. At the end of October, "tired of cold and snow", he returned to Italy, to Padua. In the notebooks, on April 5, 1907, Boccioni notes: «On February 8 a child was born to my friend Augusta Petrovna. Happiness to both of you ». It was perhaps in Boccioni's character (if he ever knew that his son was his) to show detachment from crucial sentimental events; he had ties to several women, always intricate.
The son was named Pietro, Piotr or Pierre. Around 1912 Augusta with her mother Sofia Popoff and her son left Russia and settled in Soisson, one hundred kilometers from Paris, where her sister Nadejda lived, with her husband and two children. In '17, on the eve of the Revolution, Augusta returned to Russia, where she died in '20, while Pietro grew up with uncles and cousins and, after a reversal of fortune, settled in Paris at the age of twenty. With classical studies behind him, he turned to his father's best friend, Gino Severini, to help him become a painter. Similar in appearance and impetuousness, however, he did not have Boccioni's talent. He became a liaison officer in the «Armée» during the Second World War, then no trace of him was lost.
It seems strange that Boccioni never portrayed Augusta; perhaps in some portraits of her friend Ines the oval of the famous photo appears, unless the images of the two beloved women overlap.
The novelty of the son is absolute, as well as other anecdotes, in the «Life of Boccioni» by Gino Agnese, editor of the magazine «Mass Media», the first complete biography dedicated to the artist, with the language and the progress of the novel. Agnese tells that while she was struggling around these 34 years of existence full of artistic, political and amorous events, Romana Severini, daughter of the painter Gino, showed him two letters from Pietro Berdnicoff, addressed precisely to Severini, where she referred to Boccioni as "mon père ”and explained that he had visited his aunt Amelia several times in Italy, also to retrieve a painting of his father. Severini, like perhaps Soffici, was aware of the fact.
It is not known whether Boccioni went to visit Augusta or his son in Soisson at the time of his trips to Paris with Marinetti. Pietro's cousin, Olga, recalls in a writing that Boccioni's family went to Soisson one day to propose to adopt Pietro and educate him in Italy. Later, the biographer writes, Sister Amelia erased all traces. Alongside the extraordinary discovery of a son, the volume is full of other juicy excavations in the love past of Boccioni, who had violent passions with women like Margherita Sarfatti, when she was still married and before her relationship with Mussolini, then with the princess of Teano. Vittoria Colonna, with her cousin Sandrina Procida, and above all with the mysterious Ines, who also appears in the "Three women" among the beloved mother and sister. Love finally with Adriana Bisi Fabbri, the model of the intense portrait of 1907, pointillist but already with suggestions of Futurism.
Many pages are devoted to the artist's doubts about the creation, protracted over the years, of certain works such as "The work" which he imagined from a very young age but only created in the magnificent "City that rises" of 1910. As for the "States of mind" », The series of the most mysterious, symbolist masterpieces, already projected towards abstraction, here too the genesis is examined with anxious attention.
Boccioni was a heated interventionist, so much so that he died, while he was in the army, with a tricolor handkerchief in his jacket, a small hidden flag, as an omen: he, who loved horses and their speed, was fatal to fall from the Vermilion filly. , in Sorte, near Verona, on August 16, 1916 while he was in free exit.
After Rome, the Milanese years are hectic: the exhibitions at the Permanente, the encounters with Carrà, the fatal one with Marinetti that will mean fame, the programmatic Manifestos success in Paris, the meeting with Apollinaire and the Cubists, up to the reluctant Picasso, then London, Berlin, the crazy evenings of poetry, protests, applause mixed with whistles, everything is enthusiastically reconstructed by the author of the volume.
There is a curious anecdote: the famous «Portrait of Busoni». Ferruccio Busoni, the Milanese musician residing in Berlin, on tour in London, saw «The city that rises», he was thunderstruck, he wanted to think about it, later paid out 4,000 lire for the purchase, a sidereal figure for 1912.
Then in '16 the musician called Boccioni for a portrait in the background of the lake, in Pallanza, where he was hosted by the Della Valle di Casanova marquises. It is the greatest of en plein air portraits, Boccioni struggles to do it, he wants something new, and this is perhaps the most Cubist or perhaps Cézannian of the paintings, magnificent in the flickering of light, in the movement of water, in fixing the atmosphere. , the blouse, the hat, Busoni's expression. In reality, Agnese maintains - but here we do not agree he did it not to abjure Futurism, but to please the client who would never have purchased a broken and simultaneous portrait. Boccioni, a researcher and innovator in agony as his sculptures reveal, who knew both Cézanne and Picasso well, did not allow himself to be limited by the tastes of others.
According to his testimony, the work would have returned to Italy in the mid-eighties, given the relationship between Tortelli and the Popoffs. Consequently, the work should have been performed in 1906 in Paris or in Russia, where the artist went with the woman at the end of that summer for three months. According to the reconstruction of Gino Agnese biographer of Boccioni, the two soon became lovers and from their relationship a son was born whom Boccioni never knew, even if according to the testimonies collected at the time from the artist's family, Boccioni at the time of his death he kept in his wallet the photograph of his son Pietro.