Fortunino Matania

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A photograph of Fortunino Matania published in The Sphere in 1915

Chevalier Fortunino Matania (16 April 1881 – 8 February 1963) was an Italian artist noted for his realistic portrayal of World War I trench warfare and of a wide range of historical subjects.


Born in Naples, the son of artist Eduardo Matania, Fortunino Matania studied at his father's studio, designing a soap advertisement at the age of 9 and exhibiting his first work at Naples Academy at 11. By the age of 14 he was helping his father produce illustrations for books and magazines. His talent was recognised by the editor of the Italian periodical L'Illustrazione Italiania and Matania produced weekly illustrations for the magazine between 1895 and 1902.

At the age of 20, Matania began working in Paris for Illustration Francaise and, in 1902, was invited to London to cover the Coronation of Edward VII for The Graphic. Matania would subsequently cover every major event – marriage, christening, funeral and Coronation – of British royalty up to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953.

In 1904, Matania joined the staff of The Sphere where some of his most famous work was to appear, including his illustrations of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. Around 1906 to 1910 he painted the life in the lobby of the Hotel Excelsior in Rome.[1]

The Last General Absolution of the Munsters at Rue du Bois by Matania depicting the regiment on the eve of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915

At the outbreak of the First World War, Matania became a war artist and was acclaimed for his graphic and realistic images of trench warfare. His painting for the Blue Cross entitled Goodbye, Old Man, showing a British soldier saying farewell to his dying horse, is a fine example of his emotive work.[2] His painting of the Green Howards including Henry Tandey is a central part of a famous story.[3]

But it was after the war, when he switched to scenes of ancient high life for the British woman's magazine, Britannia and Eve, that Matania found his real career. He filled his London studio with reproductions of Roman furniture, pored over history books for suitably lively subjects. Then, with the help of models and statues, he began to paint such subjects as Samson & Delilah, the bacchanalian roisters of ancient Rome, and even early American Indian maidens—all with the same careful respect for accuracy and detail he had used in his news assignments.

Generally he managed to include one or two voluptuous nudes in each picture. "The public demanded it," says Matania. "If there was no nude, then the editor or I would get a shower of letters from readers asking politely why not." He was a standard in Britannia and Eve for 19 years.

Matania exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, in 1917 he was elected a member of the latter.[note 1] From 1908 and his work appearing in most of the principal magazines in Britain and America, including Illustrated London News, London Magazine, Nash's, Printer's Pie and others. When Britannia and Eve was launched in 1929, Matania became one of its first contributors. For 19 years, he wrote and illustrated historical stories for the magazine. His talents made him a popular illustrator for advertising, posters and catalogues, working for the LMS (designing posters for Southport and Blackpool[5]), Ovaltine, Burberry's (the sporting outfitters) and many others.

Bénézit lists some auction records for Matania:[6]

  • Tenterdem. 16 Oct 2002, Musical Soiree with Beethoven Playing the Piano (oil on canvas, 52x44 cm) 9,000 GBP
  • Tenterdem. 16 Oct 2002, Elegant Edwardian Scene with Men and Women at a Polo Match (watercolour, 46x67 cm) 18,250 GBP

Matania was also recommented to Hollywood director Cecil B. DeMille and produced a number of paintings of Rome and Egypt from which authentic designs could be made for the movie The Ten Commandments. In 1933, Matania applied his very realistic style to illustrations for Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Pirates of Venus" and in 1933–24 to Burrough's "Lost on Venus."[7] Matani was one of the leading illustrators selected by Percy Bradshaw for inclusion in his The Art of the Illustrator which presented a separate portfolio for each of twenty illustrators.[note 2]

In later years, Matania provided illustrations to big Italian magazines—from "Il Mattino Illustrato" (1924–1947) and "Scena Illustrata" to "Illustrazione del Popolo" (1941–1947), "Corriere dei Piccoli" (1948–1954), and "Domenica del Corriere" (1948–1951).[10] Towards the end of his life, Matania illustrated features for the educational weekly Look and Learn and was working on the series A Pageant of Kings at the time of his death.

Books illustrated by Fortunino Matania[edit]

  • Six Stories from Shakespeare, retold by John Buchan (1934)
  • Raphael and Stella: A Baker's Delight Immortalised in Paint, by Matania (1944)
  • Great Stories from History, ed. Edward Horton and Peter Shellard (1970)
  • The Eagle Book of Amazing Stories 1974 (1973)
  • With the British Army on the Western Front: Twelve Signed Artist's Proofs. London: The Sphere & Tatler ; [1916]



  1. ^ Matania exhibited as follows: one work at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, ten works at the Royal Academy, and 27 works at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours.[4]
  2. ^ The portfolio contained: a brief biography of Matani, an illustration of Matani at work in his studio, an explanation of Matani's method of working. This was accompanied by a plate showing an illustration typical of his work and five other plates showing the work at five earlier stages of its production, from the first rough to the just before the finished drawing or colour sketch.[8] Matani's black and white illustration shows a German cavalryman in combat with an infantryman at a street barricade.[9]


  1. ^ Hotel Excelsior Rome, illustration of a postcard, ca 1910.
  2. ^ Edinburgh's War: Horses in World War One Archived 22 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "How a Green Howard nearly shot Hitler ...but not quite!", Paul Delplanque
  4. ^ Johnson, J.; Greutzner, A. (8 June 1905). The Dictionary of British Artists 1880-1940. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors' Club. p. 345.
  5. ^ "Blackpool | Art UK".
  6. ^ Bénézit, Emmanuel (2006). Benezit Dictionary Of Artists. Vol 9: Maele-Müller. Paris: Editions Gründ. pp. 523–524. ISBN 978-2-7000-3079-2. Retrieved 11 September 2020 – via The Internet Archive. |volume= has extra text (help)
  7. ^ "Fortunino Matania", The Korshak Collection
  8. ^ "The Connisseur Bookself". The Connoisseur: An Illustrated Magazine for Collectors. 51 (204): 223. 1 August 1918. Retrieved 12 August 2020 – via The Internet Archive.
  9. ^ "Matania Ephemera: F. Matania and His Work: The Art of the Illustrator (Limited Edition Prints)". Illustration Art Gallery with The Book Palace. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  10. ^ "Fortunino Matania", Anglo-Italian Family History Society

Further reading[edit]

  • The Art of the Illustrator by Percy V. Bradshaw (1918)

External links[edit]