Ralph Eugene Della-Volpe's semi-abstract paintings of often simplified beach scenes and anonymous portraits "convey profound awareness of mood and character", and his paintings are hardly as literal as they may first appear (Arts Magazine. "New York Exhibitions". 1965). Constantly transforming what is on the canvas, the artist is never sure himself of the final composition of each work until completion because, as he says, "Everything I paint is based on my own feelings about life, my own insights, my own observations and my own needs for expression."
Della-Volpe first studied painting at the National Academy of Design before joining the Army during World War II. As a soldier, the artist saw action on Utah Beach, and his experiences undoubtedly affected his later artistic style. Tom Wolf, of Bard College, explained that the paintings Della-Volpe produced after his return from service in World War II "project feelings of melancholy." expressed in the tense expressions in the figures' faces. The "coloristic exuberance" found in the works beginning in the mid 1960's, with their vibrant fuscias and yellows, seem to offset what could be an otherwise solemn tone to many of his works at the time.
Upon his return from military service, Della-Volpe took a teaching position as the first artist-in-residence at Bennett College in Millbrook, New York where he remained for 28 years, serving as chairman of the Art Department for most of that time. Obviously influenced by impressionism's preoccupation with the treatment of light, Della-Volpe's own works have a "faultless tonal quality, with its sense of failing light—the areas of silvery gray deepening into rosy tans" (Arts Magazine. "In the Galleries". 1960). The simplified scenes and portraits express the artist's love of open space and his aim to evoke emotion through each piece rather than recognition of what exactly is painted on the canvas. Della-Volpe has exhibited widely throughout his career and has lectured on art at colleges, universities, and galleries across the country.
Woman with Flag displays the quintessential hallmarks of Ralph Della-Volpe's signature style: with its bold areas of arbitrary color and graphic sensibility, it speaks to the artist's mastery of tone and form. The titular woman here appears not unlike Della-Volpe's other painted figures, simplified in shape and without recognizable facial features. Surrounded by stars and X's that presumably make up a flag, she blends in with the painting's background, effectively erasing any concrete sense of depth. As Della-Volpe notes, his work is about "seeing beyond the literal details, [finding] qualities within that initial observation that must be explored and developed further." In that light, Woman with Flag reads almost as a symbolic work, whose meaning exists in the abstract and can change depending on its viewer's frame of reference. The painting may allude to the artist's World War II service in the Army, the woman's hat a possible reference to a military beret and the surrounding flags representing nations at war. Much of the beauty of Della-Volpe's composition, however, lies in its ambiguity.
Ralph Della-Volpe's semi-abstract paintings of often simplified beach scenes and anonymous portraits "convey profound awareness of mood and character." Constantly transforming what is on the canvas, the artist is never sure himself of the final composition of each work until completion because, as he says:
"Everything I paint is based on my own feelings about life, my own insights, my own observations and my own needs for expression."
Studio of the Artist
Greenwich Gallery, Greenwich, Connecticut
Private Collection, Greenwich, Connecticut
The Greenwich Gallery, Ralph Della-Volpe: Color and Rhythm (ill. in catalogue, p. 1)