Fondation Marcello

The Fondation Marcello, based in Fribourg (Switzerland), was established in 1963 in order to preserve the estate and promote the Œuvre of Adèle d’Affry, Duchess of Castiglione Colonna (1836-1879), sculptor and painter under the pseudonym ‘Marcello’.

Short biography

Adèle d’Affry is born in 1836 into an old patrician family from the Canton of Fribourg. Her father dies in her early childhood and she receives a traditional education for young girls of her rank, including drawing and sculpture lessons. Aged 20 she marries Carlo Colonna, Duke of Castiglione Aldovrandi. Widowed nine months into her marriage she embarks on a career as an artist, working primarily in the medium of sculpture. Without access to the academy, she initially trains in the Roman studio of the Swiss artist Heinrich Maximilian Imhof. She moves to Paris in 1859 where she rents her first studio from Léon Riesener, cousin of Eugène Delacroix. She first exhibits at the Paris Salon of 1863. From the outset, her determination to be recognised as a professional artist leads her to choose the male pseudonym ‘Marcello’, the name of an 18th century Italian composer.

The Duchesse Colonna, the name she is most commonly referred to in contemporary accounts, leads a peripatetic life between Paris, Rome and Fribourg. A passion for politics leads her to frequent political circles of opposite sides. A lasting friendship with Adolphe Thiers results in a long and abundant correspondence. From 1863 she is received at the Court of Napoleon III and obtains commissionsfrom the imperial household. Early artist friendships include Auguste Clésinger the French sculptor working and living in Rome who sculpts a portrait bust of her, and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux with whom she shares a staunch admiration for Michelangelo and with whom she remain close until the end of his life. Over the years, her circle of artist friends extends to painters Ernest Hébert, Henri Regnault and Mario Fortuny , composers and musicians Charles Gounod and Herbert Liszt and writers such as Proper Mérimée . She befriends the younger Berthe Morisot of whom she paints a portrait and with whom she sharesthe experience of being a woman in the male dominated art world. A constant concern for her reputation is illustrated by a telling episode: she rejects Edouard Manet’s request to paint her portrait for fear of being compromised. However, Gustave Courbet paints her portrait in 1870.

In 1863, Marcello exhibits three works at the Paris Salon, including the bust of Bianca Capello which meets with critical acclaim. Henceforth she exhibits regularly at the Salon and at the Exposition Universelle of 1867 under pseudonym, even if her identity is quickly uncovered. Her work is frequently commented on in the press of her time. Incessant travels regularly bring her back to Fribourg where she builds a studio for herself in her native home. From 1868 she develops a more expressive, naturalistic style, triggered by her travels to Spain along with her artist friends Henri Regnault and Georges Clairin. A long sojourn in Rome between January 1869 and April 1870 is a period of intense creativity and results in her opus magnum, the Pythie or Sybil, subsequently purchased by Charles Garnier for the new Paris opera house where the work can still be seen. A progressively failing health leads her to abandon sculpture and take up painting, however less successfully. She dies of tuberculosis at the age of 43 on 14 July 1879 in Castellamare on the Gulf of Naples. The funerary monument for her grave in the churchyard of her native Givisiez is of her own design.

The artist’s legacy

In her will, Marcello makes a significant bequest to the Canton of Fribourg encompassing a significant selection of her own work along with a collection of works from artist friends and contemporaries for these to be exhibited in a recreated artist studio-salon setting. In 1881 the Musée Marcello opens its doors to the public and remains so until the late 1930s when the works are transferred to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire. The remaining contents of her former studios, personal archives and personals belongings are brought back to her native home and studio by her mother where they have subsequently been looked after by descendants of her only sister, Baronne Cécile d’Ottenfels. In 1963, the Fondation Marcello is established to preserve this heritage intact for future generations and to make it available for research and public dissemination.

As with many artists from her generation, Marcello’s oeuvre was largely forgotten after her death and only gradually re-discovered by art historians and the interested public from the 1970s onwards, reflecting the growing interest in the role of women artists as well as the re-evaluation of the 19th century academic tradition. To this day, Marcello’s work remains little known amongst the wider public, also because of the relatively limited representation of her work in public collections (including the Château de Fontainebleau, Musée d’Orsay, Musée Carnavalet (Paris), Musée des Beaux Arts (Lyon), Musée des Beaux Arts (Marseille), Victoria & Albert Museum (London), Philadelphia Museum of Art).

The Fondation Marcello – objectives and work

The Fondation Marcello is Swiss foundation in accordance with Art.80 of the Swiss Civil Code. Its objectives are:

  • To document and preserve the works of Marcello, documents and materials relating to the artist’s life and oeuvre which are in the Fondation’s ownership. This includes sculpture, paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, archives, photographs and ephemera. These are kept in the native home of the artist in their historic setting, which includes her studio.
  • To document work by Marcello held in other public and private collections, as well as research related to the artist’s work and related subjects.
  • To promote the artist and her oeuvre amongst professionals and the public at large.

We pursue these objectives by:

  • Working with art historians and other academics.
  • Collaborating with museums and other public institutions (including short and long term loans, exhibitions and other projects).

The Foundation also provides access to Marcello’s studio for groups (of up to 15 people at a time) during the summer season, by prior appointment.

For further information please contact: