Fortunino Matania was born in Naples in 1881, the son of Eduardo, a well-respected artist who worked regularly for high-quality Italian publications, including L’Illustrazione Italiana.
Trained in his father’s studio, Matania had a precocious talent. In 1895, aged 14, he was employed by L’Illustrazione Italiana as a “special artist”. As his reputation grew, he was engaged by The Graphic in 1902 to record the coronation of Edward VII (done purely from memory as no sketchbooks were allowed in the ceremony). In 1904, he became The Sphere’s “special artist”. His work for the magazine is spectacularly diverse, taking in world events, royal ceremonials and social scenes.
Accuracy and authenticity were the key characteristics of his work, which had an almost photographic realism. He took particular pains to recreate uniforms, costume and weaponry correctly. During the Great War, he visited the Front on several occasions to gather material first-hand. At other times, he took eyewitness accounts from wounded men in hospital.
His illustrations for The Sphere cover all aspects of the war, from battle charges and entertainment behind the lines to munitions work on the home front. More emotive subjects include his famous Goodbye, Old Man, a heart-wrenching picture of a gunner bidding farewell to his wounded horse. Originally painted for the Blue Cross Fund, it was distributed in several versions by The Sphere.
As busy as ever in his later years, he was still producing illustrations with his customary skill and accuracy during the Second World War. He also indulged his love of history by writing and illustrating stories for the series “Old Tales Re-Told”, in Britannia and Eve, part of the Illustrated London News stable of magazines.
Fortunino Matania remains one of the most accomplished painters in the genre of illustrated realism. Syndicated around the world, his work became familiar to millions. He exhibited at the Royal Academy on 10 occasions and had many contemporary admirers within the artistic community. A number of works by his father Eduardo and his cousin, Ugo, both very able painters, also appeared in The Sphere.