Remembering Nerina Simi

A show by her students in Italy

Nerina Simi (1890-1987) was a renowned teacher of fine arts. As a young woman, she studied under her father, Filadelfo Simi, and at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence. When her father died in 1923, she kept open his school in Piazza Piave in Florence, and continued to teach there for more than sixty years. The summer months of her long life were spent in Versilia where the Fondazione Villa Bertelli is commemorating her career with an exhibition of her work and that of twenty-two artists who studied at her atelier.

This September, a group of twenty-two artists are paying homage to the memory of their remarkable art teacher, Nerina Simi, in an exhibition at Villa Bertelli in Forte dei Marmi. This prestigious venue on the Tuscan coast is close to Stazzema, the town in the Apuan Alps where Nerina Simi spent the summers of her long life at the studio that her father, Filadelfo Simi, built. Lo Studio Simi – a member of the Artist’s Studio Museum Network – is now a museum and can be visited by appointment.

22 artists outside an Italian villa

Nerina Simi's students
Some of the artists whose work is on display at Villa Bertelli

Although Nerina Simi (1890-1987) was born in Florence and lived in Piazza Piave where she taught for many decades, her ties to Versilia remained strong throughout her life. Memories of her affection for the Apuan Alps have encouraged her students to gravitate towards Stazzema as a meeting place where they paint and reminisce together. In 2014 and 2017, a group participated in two commemorative exhibitions organized in the cultural centre of Cardoso, and these initiatives paved the way for this show at Villa Bertelli.

Villa Bertelli was built in 1896 by a company producing explosives, but following the First World War the demand for land mines fell, the business failed, and the building was turned into a grand hotel. In 2011 it was refurbished to become the seat of the Fondazione Villa Bertelli and the cultural hub of Forte dei Marmi. It is in this elegant marble-floored building that the fashionable seaside resort is celebrating the illustrious teaching career of Nerina Simi. The whole first floor of the building, which has five exhibition rooms, offers more than 360 square metres in which more than seventy works are on display.

Inside the Villa Bertelli show

The first room is dedicated to paintings by Nerina, or the “Signorina”, as her pupils affectionately called her. Two busts portraying her stand on pedestals in the centre of the room, one in marble by Fred Brownstein and the other in bronze by Anne Shingleton. In the garden below, another of Anne’s pieces, a magnificent bronze swan, welcomes visitors as they walk up the path to the entrance of the villa.

Two rooms are filled with portraits, whose noticeable variety illustrates the freedom of expression that Nerina Simi’s teaching gave to those fortunate enough to study under her. Her strict approach to drawing based on comparative measuring from life and prolonged study of tonal values endows artists with the ability to portray the human figure and face with confidence while developing their own style. This selection of works by Isabelle Touren, Pamela Tippett, Daphne Stevens, Linda Allison Merrill, Alessandra Marrucchi, Daniel Graves, Simona Dolci, Antonio Ciccone, Lilian Backer-Grøndahl, Joanna Aston, and Michael John Angel displays the mastery that Simi’s students have achieved in portrait painting.

The rooms with landscapes and still lifes are testimony not only to the quality but also to the international nature of Nerina Simi’s atelier: Damaris Lysaght and Therese McAllister are from Ireland; Laura Buxton from Scotland; Daphne Stevens and Anne Shingleton from England; Joke Frima from the Netherlands; Marie-Isabel Lockett from Germany; Kari Wendel from Norway; Stella Ehrich, Charles Kapsner, Daniel Graves and Nelson White from the United States; and Catherine Cellai from Australia.

Inside the Villa Bertelli show

Nerina Simi (1890-1987) was a renowned teacher of fine arts. As a young woman, she studied under her father, Filadelfo Simi, and at the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence. When her father died in 1923, she kept open his school in Piazza Piave in Florence, and continued to teach there for more than sixty years. The summer months of her long life were spent in Versilia where the Fondazione Villa Bertelli is commemorating her career with an exhibition of her work and that of twenty-two artists who studied at her atelier.

Villa Bertelli is an elegantly restored nineteenth-century building, a beautiful venue for the numerous conferences, concerts and exhibitions that provide a rich agenda of cultural activities for visitors to Forte dei Marmi, one of Tuscany’s most fashionable seaside resorts. This lively exhibition of more than seventy works takes up the entire first floor of the villa and includes a wide variety of portraits, landscapes and still lifes, in which the influence of a truly remarkable drawing teacher is always evident.

Nerina’s summer home, Lo Studio Simi, situated in the Apuan Alps just below Stazzema, has been restored and is now a studio museum that can be visited by appointment. Lo Studio Simi is a member of the Artist's Studio Museum Network.

A poster for a show of 22 artists

An exhibition poster

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