My Painting and Cultural Tour in Tuscany and Liguria: 2010

This September I led a painting group on an 'agriturismo' twenty minutes south of Florence. As well as painting around this farm, which produces exceptional, organic olive oil, wine, grappa and vino santo,  we took two day-long visits to Florence and one to Siena. The trip is documented in an eight minute video on youtube  "A Painting and Cultural Tour in Tuscany and Liguria 2010"  which you may access here.

This blog focuses on the eight oil paintings I completed during my month in Italy. They will be exhibited for two weekends in my studio Noon to 5 PM, Dec 11-12 & 18-19. For directions to my studio just go to Visit Studio on this website.


I arrived in Florence five days before the painting group. I stayed at a pensione in Piazza Santo Spirito which is one of the few areas of old Florence that maintains a vestige of its original character.

Early mornings I worked on my first painting standing in front of  the homeless who slumbered in their sleeping bags alongside the church under the disapproving gaze of its priest. 'Tutti in piedi! E tempo di lavorare!" (Up on your feet! It's time to work!)  he shouted one day - an exhortation which had no discernible effect.

The open air market in the square offered fresh fruit and vegetables. Evenings tourists and Italians patronized several restaurants while the homeless, adding a commedia dell'arte flavor, squabbled around the fountain . Young students across from the expensive restaurants crowded the charming little 'aperitivo' ' Pop Cafe'  .

There are views of Florence which transport me back to 1967-68 when I lived in a  little attico  behind the Palazzo Vecchio.  I would pass over Ponte alle Grazie and look back at the city center from across the Arno. Because it is associated with so many memories this view continues to resonate  strongly with me.


In those days I would continue out of  the city and climb the steps past Piazzale Michelangelo on my way to paint in the fields. I would often pause to savor this view (below).

On this visit, my student Daniel Altman and I spent two afternoons painting here. The first afternoon rain accompanied by thunder and lightening added drama to the scene, and to our experience of painting it!


On the 'agriturismo', where we all stayed for two weeks, the  courtyard in front of our accommodations (of which a corner is discernible in the bottom of this painting) served as our outdoor studio. It offers a number of fine views of vineyards, olive groves and hilltop towns.

We also ate breakfast, lunch and some dinners out here.


I have often hiked  this road past our farmhouse to other subjects like abandoned farmhouses, chapels among the cypress and breathtaking vistas.


But we found beguiling subjects without even leaving our rooms!


From Tuscany I accompanied two of my students to Portovenere in Liguria which is a two and a half hour drive north-west of Florence on the Mediterranean. The name Portovenere derives from the fact that there was originally a temple  to Venus where this 12th century church of St Peter  (below) now stands. The church appears to have succumbed to it's pagan antecedent: it serves, almost exclusively, as a site for lavish weddings.

There is a decidedly Venusian flavor to this port. The colorful fishing boats, charming alleyways that climb its steep slopes, alluring artisan, fashion boutiques and fine restaurants like Da Antonio seduce the senses.  After busy, warm days,  an evening dip in the calm, blue-green water that is set aside for swimmers along the quay was a welcome balm.


These waters also conveyed me on a spellbinding journey to the Cinque Terre.  Seas permitting, there is regular ferry service from Portovenere. The five lands live up to their reputation. But they struck me as incredibly fragile clinging precariously to the steep, unstable cliffs. And I wondered if the current  avalanche of tourism might eventually bear their delicate terraces and precipitous towns down into the oblivion of the blue-green waters...


I am planning further painting trips both to Tuscany and to Liguria. Contact me if you are interested in participating. I will soon post dates and details in my ' Classes ' section of this website.

Painting Workshop in Tuscany, Italy

Every other year I teach a painting workshop on a farm, near Florence in  the Tuscan countryside. The farm makes its own organic olive oil, chianti and grappa. Its young owners and  a mutual friend, Carla, cook for us most evenings. Would you like to join me?

If you are interested visit Classes to sign up.

Apart from these evenings of wine and conversation with, maybe, a short passage of Vasari, or Dante we explore Florence and other towns. I lived in Florence for nearly two years after the biblical flood of November 1966. I was Head of Outdoor Restoration for the Uffizi Gallery so I am very familiar with Italian culture.

And, yes we paint. Even beginners  bring home something of which they are proud.

More important: the act of painting encourages  an observation that changes and deepens our experience.

In 2007 several of us painted an abandoned farmhouse. It was typical of the farmhouses throughout Tuscany in the sixties. In those days these were thriving operations. Large families, oxen and other animals, market gardens, orchards as well as grapes and olives. Now they have mostly been turned into fancy homes. This one remained in its original condition and prompted some interesting conversations with locals. I cite one below:


August 30, 2007

Today another visitor stopped on a motorbike called Stefano - a gracious young man.

“Compliments! Especially for your colors that truly reflect reality…If I listen it seems to me that this traditional house tells the story of the generations who lived here. The seasons. The war passed right through here, you know.”

We talked about the economy that is weak in Italy when he introduced me to a new Tuscan phrase ‘to extend the broth’ (allungare il brodo). Talking about the thirty percent of Americans who cannot pay their debts, he explained that in Italy if a person couldn’t pay:

“The creditors take everything and don’t give any further credit. I understand that in the United States, on the other hand, they ‘extend the broth’. But it seems to me that you can only ‘extend the broth’ for so long because in the end it won’t be broth anymore.”

These words of Stefano seem prophetic today.


But before you are bummed out by thoughts of our looming depression and the loss of traditional agriculture in Tuscany consider this other conversation I had in Florence in Piazza Santo Spirito:

August 14, 2007

My friend, Carla, introduced me to an ‘aperitivo’ in the piazza. If someone buys a drink for three or four euros he has the right to take the food, simple but delicious, that is available. Every night there is a crowd of young Florentines here.

Today I met Lucca while I was eating at the ‘aperitivo’ a fascinating Florentine of around forty who talks rapidly accompanying all his words with gestures. He says that the Florentines have lost the greater part of the center of Florence to the tourists and merchants.

“Here in San Frediano there remains a vestige of the spirit of the old city. However, not even here remain many of the artisans of years past. One needs to go to certain neighborhoods in the periphery of the city or even further out to the small towns to find them. In those places there are people and collectives who want to create quality products in a calm environment. They work outside the global market and for this reason they can offer the products at low prices to the community. When the global market collapses, perhaps these groups can take over. I also have faith in the intuition of the youth. They’re great.”

Artisans working outside the global economy, the 'slow food' movement, 'agriturismos' like the one we visit where a new generation can afford to continue farming: all these are indications that Italy, at the grassroots, is turning away from the consumer model that it has pursued, in its infatuation with everything American, since the last world war.

Those of you who have read this far might be interested in viewing my illustrated, bilingual book "Due Mesi in Italia e Istria, Two Months in Italy" online at